August 2005

Mon Aug 01 08:59:06 PDT 2005

Psst — Hey Bud, Wanna Buy a Bridge?

Regarding something I’ve been meaning to comment on for some time, last last April, Bechtel proposed to build a replacement for the Sellwood Bridge.

Initial media reports were filled with the expected free-market platitudes, but as time has passed, skepticism has been expressed.

As well it should. Bechtel is not a charitable institution; they’re in business to make money. And they obviously thought selling a new Sellwood Bridge was lucrative enough that they took the effort of making an unsolicited proposal to the county.

Public-private partnerships can end up combining the greed and rapacity of capitalism with the exemption from market forces of government. I know; I’ve seen it first hand, working for a defense contractor in my twenties. The more cost overruns and complications that happen after the contract is signed, the more Bechtel’s stockholders can milk the county for their own ends.

The fact that it costs less up-front is also something to be wary of. It’s a rule of thumb that every time you pay less up-front for something you almost always end up paying more in the end. Just look at economics of buying on credit versus paying cash, or renting a home versus owning one. And who gets to pocket that difference in cost? Bechtel, of course.

That’s not to say there’s no room for savings in the proposal. But even here, there’s pitfalls. One of the reasons government is less “efficient” is that there are all sorts of public-oversight safeguards governments have to abide by. These create paperwork and slow down the process. They also give the public chances to influence the course of a project. A major bridge that could stand for the next 70 or 100 years will have a major effect on the future of those living in the area; thus, there’s a very strong case to be made for public oversight. When seen as a way to buy more oversight, maybe it’s worth it to the public to pay extra for some “inefficiency and bureaucracy.” The neighborhood groups for the area around the bridge sure seem to think so.

Not only that, remember what I wrote about public-private partnerships and waste. Those same safeguards that slow things down also act to keep contractors and suppliers on a shorter leash. Many of them have, in fact, evolved over time in response to precisely this contractor-wastefulness problem. It’s another truism that sometimes you have to spend money to save money; it’s entirely likely that the much-derided “inefficiency” could end up paying for itself.

Tue Aug 02 20:57:09 PDT 2005

Ah, Figured It Out

Apropos this, it is indeed possible to use something other than numeric constants in static declrations in PHP. Just omit the constant() function:

function gunk($i)
      static $junk = 42;  /* still can't use "expressions" */
      static $glunk = MANIFEST_CONSTANT;
      return ($i + $junk) * $glunk;

Wed Aug 03 20:01:10 PDT 2005

American Gestapo

Pay attention to this entry in Tom Tomorrow’s blog.

The torturing to death of a mere suspect is what most are focusing on (and rightly so, as it is a heinous act of barbarism). But what’s also important is that the victim in this case was arrested when he went to the US base to inquire about the status of his sons.

Talk about a policy calculated to promote violent resistance! Personally, I’d have a hard time thinking of any better way to legitimize and promote it than by torturing and killing people who attempt to use non-violent, legal means to address disputes with you.

Wed Aug 03 20:30:53 PDT 2005

On Withdrawal Timetables

There is some debate (not much, the conventional “wisdom” is pretty much squarely behind the go-it-slow camp) between withdrawing from Iraq immediately and withdrawing gradually.

Practically speaking, it’s impossible to withdraw immediately: there’s simply too many soldiers and too much equipment over there. It took time to get it all in place, it’s going to take time to get it all out. That’s true even if the getting out is done as fast as possible. Once a tar baby is punched, there’s simply no such thing as a quick and clean getaway.*

So really, the debate is between getting out as fast as possible or getting out at some slower pace.

The logic behind the slower pace is that withdrawing too fast will allow Iraq to slip even more into chaos. The logic behind getting out as fast as possible is that the occupying troops themselves are the biggest destabilizing factor.

It’s a depressing thought, but I suspect both sides are right: the occupation is a destabilizing factor, and getting out fast will cause the chaos to increase. Stay in, it slowly worsens. Get out, it gets rapidly worse. Staying in won’t mean not withdrawing in a hurry and leaving chaos behind; it’ll only mean doing so at a later date and to a worse effect.

If a slower withdrawal is attempted, things will get worse as it progresses, which will in turn result in it either being canceled (because it didn’t work) or accelerated (as troops flee for their lives amidst increasing chaos). Eventually a withdrawal will happen where the latter is chosen.

And the people who will pay the biggest price for it all will be the people of Iraq, not the warmongers in Washington.

*Which is not to say there’s no utility in demanding an immediate withdrawal and punishing those in power when it fails to happen. The cost of this atrocity to those responsible for it needs to be maximized, so as to minimize the chances of a recurrence.

Wed Aug 03 21:02:45 PDT 2005

Am I Being “Google Discriminated” Against?

No, I’m not talking about the Google search engine’s rankings of this blog or any other site I’m involved in. Go here and search for “Google” in the discussion thread.

Sometimes I wonder. Not that it’ll be enough to make me shut up; that’s simply too high a price to pay.

And not that there’s anything I could do about it now, anyhow. Everything but the most recent entries of what I’ve typed here has already been captured by The Internet Archive and, if that organization fulfills its mission, it will forever be accessible to any and all comers. And they’re not the only folks out there crawling the Web and saving what they come across. Putting anything on a public web site brings to mind a verse by Omar Khayyam:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on : nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Thu Aug 04 02:51:00 PDT 2005

On Racial Profiling

I was really tired and went to bed around 21:45 last night. Then I awaken at 01:00 and can't get back to sleep, so I turn on talk radio and listen to what the enemy is talking about. Turns out one topic is racial profiling of suspected terrorists.

Curious, isn’t it, that the right-wing blowhards on talk radio weren’t advocating profiling white, conservative, male, NRA members in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s a far more specific category than the ones of “Muslims” or “Arabs,” their categories of choice to profile in the wake of 9/11.

The desire to profile against those categories appears to be far more easily explained by racism than it is by any desire to avoid supposed political correctness and choose the best policing strategies.

Thu Aug 04 03:17:42 PDT 2005

Osama bin Laden, Humanitarian

Another thing the blowhards are up to is heaping praise on the decision to drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago. They’re just overflowing with platitudes as to how it was done to save Japanese lives by ending the war faster. Never mind that revenge and intimidating the USSR probably had more to do with it.

I’ll just point out that the same logic can be applied to praise Al-Qaeda’s tactics. Terrorism campaigns typically kill far fewer civilians than an all-out war against an enemy. Compare and contrast the numbers killed on 9/11 with the number killed in Iraq. Even if you add the death tolls from Madrid, London, Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi, Al-Qaeda still looks pretty damn good in comparison.

Thu Aug 04 10:08:48 PDT 2005

Risky Repairs

As soon as I heard about the emergency repairs being performed, it gave me worries. Turns out I’m not the only one — apparently those on the shuttle have their worries as well. More than likely, the degree to which they’re actually worried about it is being shielded from the media.

And no wonder. They’re essentially removing “spare” bits of insulation that somehow shook themselves loose. Well, we all sure hope they’re spare — why does the act of ripping out insulation designed to protect the thing from burning up on re-entry not exactly inspire confidence?

Equally worrying is that the removal job involves using metal tools — pliers and a hacksaw — in the immediate proximity of some very delicate insulating tiles. Trash a tile and you’re quite literally toast when re-entry time comes.

Fri Aug 05 12:05:33 PDT 2005

Well, So Much for That

Another day, another bombed phone interview, this time with Google.

Or so I think. It gave all the impressions of being your typical job interview, where performance is based solely on ability to regurgitate canned answers on demand. I always do poorly on such things.

First, because I regard my brain cells as a precious enough resource that I don’t waste them on storing canned answers. Instead, I use them to store how to find different kinds of answers should I need them. Why on earth should I, say, memorize the intricacies of HTTP or ARP when there’s RFC Documents that contain the official specifications of these protocols available free to all comers on the Web? If a situation arises where I really need to have these things on the top of my mind, I’ll start remembering the particular details I need to know after I’ve looked up the answer for the fifth or sixth time and the natural motivation to avoid that busywork kicks in. I have yet to encounter a work situation where my access to use the Web to find the answer to work-related problems is in any way restricted or rationed.

Second, because I’ve never been good at coming up with answers or arguments right now on the spot in realtime. It always takes at least a few minutes to really get something coherent in mind. It’s one reason I have a strong preference for communicating my ideas in writing instead of face-to-face conversation. Unfortunately, coming up with coherent answers and/or arguments right now is the very essence by which one’s performance at a job interview typically is evaluated. Every second of pause time is a demerit or two against you.

And the frustrating part is that job in particular is one I could do really well at. But thanks to my lack of ability at some formalized bullshit that has little relevance to the actual work I’d be doing, I’ll not be given that chance.

Fri Aug 05 13:10:28 PDT 2005

On Social Security and Class Warfare

Altogether too long ago, I promised to write the following rant. Better late then never.

First, it’s absurd to suggest there’s a Social Security crisis that requires massive benefits cuts. To start with, the only truly correct, provable conclusion about the future of Social Security is “we don’t know.” It is, after all, the future — and the future is always uncertain. The best we can do is make educated guesses. Economic forecasting is far from an exact science; therefore, any definitive assertions about an inevitable future crisis are lies.

Next, many of the scenarios for crisis are themselves absurd. They depend on an economic growth rate far less than what has been the historic norm. They totally ignore the supposed benefits of innovation and increased productivity. Is it to be used to make workers compete for a dwindling number of jobs, drive wages down, and concentrate more wealth in the hands of the few, or is it to be used to facilitate supplying a growing number of retirees with the necessities of life?

Retirement, after all, is nothing but an arrangement by which some are to be exempt from working on account of their age while at the same time continuing to enjoy the benefits of goods and services produced by younger workers. No matter which legal or financial measures you use to structure it, that’s all it amounts to.

Second, the class warfare aspect of it all. First, recall that, despite the proclaimed existence of a “Social Security trust fund,” there really is no big vault somewhere with piles of money in it waiting to be spent. The trust fund monies have all been invested in government debt instruments; in effect, part of our Social Security taxes are being loaned to Uncle Sam to be spent for other purposes.

A big part of the assertion of a brewing crisis is predicated on the huge obligation involved in honoring all these I.O.U.’s. By stating that the trust fund money won’t be fully available to bridge the coming Social Security revenue gap, nothing more than a selective default on government debt is being proposed.

The Social Security Administration, of course, is far from the only purchaser of Federal debt instruments. Private investors purchase them by the billions as well. So, pay attention now, what we have are basically two kinds of loans to the government:

  1. Loans that have been voluntarily made by folks (usually folks with a lot of money to their names) choosing to make them of their own free will.
  2. Loans that have been made by those forced to pay Social Security taxes. Since such taxes are amongst the most regressive of all Federal taxes, these monies come disproportionately from those who do not have many assets to their names.
And which debts are they proposing defaulting on? That’s right, the forced loans made mostly by those of less means! The voluntary ones made by the rich are to be held sacrosanct.

If that’s not class warfare on the part of the wealthy against everyone else, I don’t know what is.

Finally, none of this crisis-in-the-making stuff is particularly unique to Social Security. Recall what I said earlier about the essential nature of retirement. That’s the case whether retiree incomes come from the government or from private funds.

Most of those private funds are invested in stocks and bonds. When the baby boomers retire, there’s going to be a large, long-term softening in equities prices as a result of all those retirees cashing their investments in to pay living expenses. Depending on how the mob psychology of the markets processes that softening, it’s not terribly hard to imagine things ending in an economic depression. When that happens, businesses will go under left and right, most of those equities will become worthless, and pensions will evaporate overnight.

So private retirement accounts are every bit as much a Ponzi scheme as Social Security is. Yet we hear nothing of proposals to rein in the private pensions of the wealthy, only of proposals to take away Social Security pensions that mean the most to the least fortunate.

Again, if that’s not class warfare on the part of the wealthy against everyone else, I don’t know what is.

Sat Aug 06 09:11:57 PDT 2005

Senseless Death of the Week

This waste of life wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the self-appointed puritans who think it’s a good idea to have laws dictating what substances other people can put in their own bodies,

They’re always whining about how illegal drugs ruin lives and destroy families. Maybe they should consider how much of that is really due to the war on drugs.

Sun Aug 07 17:00:24 PDT 2005

Corporate Media at its Worst

That’s what this article epitomizes.

First, the sensationalism bit about crime, talking about Downtown as if its some sort of incredibly dangerous place. The real dangerous neighborhoods in the metro area are out in the suburbs — and the further out, the more dangerous. Why? Because if you live there, odds are you spend many more hours behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, and driving is by far the most dangerous activity people commonly engage in.

And that goes many times over for driving under the influence. The real scandalous and dangerous thing about those downtown revelers is how many of them drive home drunk.

Yes, the risk of injury or death as a result of being a crime victim is higher in the city. But it’s swamped by the greater risk of injury or death in a car crash in the suburbs.

It’s only briefly mentioned that the recent shootings downtown were most likely perpetuated by gang members. The implications of this fact are left unexplored. Namely, gang members are most interested in causing harm to members of rival gangs. They don’t care one way or another about the rest of us; as far as they’re concerned, we’re just part of the scenery. Virtually all gang-related violence falls into this category, and the murderer and victim typically know each other. (This has long been the case. Back in the frontier days, even the very worst “lawless” Wild West towns were typically quite safe to live in — unless, of course, you were a member of one of the gangs of gunslingers that were battling it out.*)

And then we get to the last page, where some unusually costumed men (wearing cardboard boxes on their heads and calling themselves “professional boxers”) get needlessly harassed by the police:

And then there’s another sighting of the “professional boxers,” this time on Washington Street, near the Mexican food cart, where club-goers congregate after last call. They flow through the crowd, sparking smiles and questions. What are you doing? one guy asks.

Spreading peace and love, the boxers answer.

The man smiles. I’ve got peace and love, too, he says.

But the police have concerns. Lt. Dominick Jacobellis follows the boxers as they pass in front of a food cart and tugs on a box flap.

Go home, he tells them. Take off your boxes. You’re done.

Why, asks Cieslinski, his scrunched brow and pointy mustache and beard peering out from a hole in his box. The lieutenant just repeats his directive. Go home.

Cieslinski, looking frustrated, slowly removes his box. He bids the police a barely concealed angry farewell.

“Thank you for keeping the night safe,” he says.

It completely escapes me how such mindless exercises of petty fascism do anything to promote safety. Not to mention that I’m completely unaware of any law making it illegal to wear a cardboard box on your head.

*As an example, go here and search for “Bodie.”

Tue Aug 09 09:56:44 PDT 2005

Speaking of Google Discrimination

Looks like Google’s CEO can’t stand a taste of his own medicine.

Tue Aug 09 11:45:22 PDT 2005

Worries for Naught

Well, they made it back safely, and yes, I’m glad all the worries about damaged insulation were for naught.

Fri Aug 12 18:53:14 PDT 2005

Sorry, That Turkey Don’t Fly

So how is the Right in Venezuela trying to spin the latest local elections, where pro-Chávez candidates won 80% of the seats? Very, very lamely:

Since the voting system is modeled after the one in Germany, each voter gets to choose a party and a candidate. The results are then tabulated so that the seats are distributed according to proportional representation on the party vote, which counts for 40% of the seats and according to majority vote for the individual candidates, which constitute 60% of the seats in each council.

The MVR-UVE “twin” enabled pro-Chávez forces to win more seats than if voters had just voted for the MVR because winning MVR candidates would have counted against the proportional vote the party obtained. By running individual candidates on a different party ticket, pro-Chávez forces were able to win more seats than they otherwise would have.

The opposition argued that this “twin” strategy was unconstitutional, but neither the Supreme Court nor the CNE forbade it. Some opposition parties, such as the party of Zulia governor Manuel Rosales, used the same strategy to augment city and district council results [emphasis added].

Unbelievably lamely, in fact. Look, campaigning consists of nothing more than attempting to persuade voters to act in the way most beneficial to your camp. Nobody was forcing anyone to vote strategically like that; there’s a secret ballot in Venezuela and everyone is free to vote as he or she chooses.

Not to mention how the opposition itself attempted (in places, successfully even) to use precisely the same strategy shows just how hypocritical and utterly devoid of meaningful content the whole complaint is. Something tells me, however, that an Establishment pundit or two here in the States is going to repeat that complaint as if it actually contained an iota of validity.

Sat Aug 13 14:08:12 PDT 2005

Shut Up and Stop the Incoherent Babbling

Sigh. Yet more idiot whiners complaining about high gasoline prices. For the last fucking time: no, it’s not particularly expensive.

Sun Aug 14 11:11:19 PDT 2005

Agreeing with the “Enemy”

One of the reasons I’m reluctant to be labeled in any way is the propensity for labels to impede understanding. I only reluctantly decided to agree with the “anarchist” label after being repeatedly called such whenever I gave people a detailed explanation of my beliefs. I eventually decided that in this particular case, the tendency of the label to enlighten exceeded its tendency to confuse.

That propensity was underscored again by my running across the web site of self-professed “libertarian survivalist” Claire Wolfe. Let’s see now, in her blog, we have:

Three bizarre entries in all. What’s more surprising is that all of the other dozen or so are not bizarre in the least. Things like: To pick a few. Scary right-wing-sounding label or no, I probably have more points of strong agreement with her than I would with your typical Establishment liberal.

Wolfe has co-authored a book that outlines a truly strange future where the US is governed by an elite whose policies mix bourgeois liberal ecology and authoritarian measures like total surveillance and and a perpetual War on Terrorism. That strikes me as especially strange and inconsistent because any technological dystopia would have to rely to a large part on the destruction of the natural world. As Edward Abbey once pointed out, wilderness is dangerous to authoritarian governments, because rebels have always hid out in the wilderness.

Strange or no, maybe it’s not too hard to understand why Wolfe came up with it. Concern for the environment is a plank in the liberal platform. And, as I’ve pointed out before, liberalism at its essence is the quest for the perfect way to rule and regulate people. Wolfe (and/or her co-author) takes those facts and runs with them — takes them out of context and runs to places I think unjustified, to be sure. But it’s not as if the source of the scenario is any big mystery.

If small town America had more “don’t tread on me” types like Wolfe and fewer Bush-believing homophobic fuckwits like Clayton Cramer, I’d probably have put my inner-city condo on the market by now.

Tue Aug 16 00:19:44 PDT 2005

Shooting My Mouth Off

If you want to see a Nice Liberal run away from a civil rights issue as fast as his legs can carry him, start talking about the Article 2 of the Bill of Rights. It was brought home by my casually mentioning in the course of a phone conversation that I’ve been thinking for some time of going to a Pink Pistols event just to familiarize myself with firearms and try shooting some different kinds again.

I could hear the gears spinning on the other end of the line: Oh my gosh… you wouldn’t actually consider… touching… one of those things, would you? Don’t think he picked up on the “again” part — I did go to college deep in cowboy country, and several friends let me have a try at shooting their guns. Several other friends at the time expressed that same shock that I’d actually consider… touching… one of those things.

As a matter of fact, yes, I did and I would. This entry is long enough as it is, so I’ll spare you an exposition of all the reasons why; I’ll touch on one or two of them later.

As for my past limited experiences, shooting a .30-06 hunting rifle in particular gave me appreciation for why some gun nuts get so fanatical about their hobby. I slowly pulled the trigger. It was just like operating any control on any machine until, suddenly, that inert mass of wood and steel I was holding came alive. That’s really the best way I can think of describing it, and the sensation happened a split-second before I heard the report of the shot. Which, as it happened, nailed the target. Ah, beginners’ luck.

So why didn’t I take up shooting myself? A matter of time and money, mostly. I already had a huge variety of interests competing for my precious time, and being a poor student really couldn’t justify shelling out the kind of bucks it takes to buy a good firearm. Plus the whole cultural aspect; at the time I was still living with my parents during the summer and they would have not been amused seeing me carry my shiny new treasure in from the car. In short, why precipitate a family blow-up when the last thing I needed was yet another interest to distract me from my studies?

Moreover, aside from taking up target shooting as a hobby, I really don’t personally see the need to own a gun myself. As far as protection from criminals goes, yes, violent crime happens. It’s also a damn sight more rare than the sensationalist media leads one to believe, as my “ghetto” experiences demonstrate. As Michael Moore so aptly showed in Bowling for Columbine Americans live in a culture of fear.

Moreover, the one time in my life I was potentially at danger from an armed criminal, a gun would have been of no use to me. One shot (not intended for me) was fired, then both the shooter and his intended victim fled the scene of the crime. It was all over before I would have had any chance to react.

And realistically, that’s how I see most such encounters. Either the threat happens and disappears before I’d have time to react, or it’s an unclear situation. Such as, imagine the following scenario: I’m in a bank or at a convenience store and someone pulls a gun and holds the place up. It’s a common rule of thumb that you should never draw a gun in a confrontation unless you intend to shoot, and you should never shoot unless you intend to kill. So, should I try to kill the robber? I don’t know. It all depends on the robber’s intentions: does he intend to shoot the clerk or not? Not being a mind reader, I don’t know. I’d really rather see the situation work itself through without anyone getting shot, even if it means the robber getting away with some cash. It’s only the cash of some big capitalist enterprise I don’t really trust or regard as legitimate, anyhow.

Yes, yes, I know: the robber drew his gun first, which by the rule of thumb announces his intent to kill. But life isn’t as simple as a rule of thumb; the majority of robbers don’t shoot the clerks they hold up. And I’m not interested in shooting someone in order to stop $30 or so from disappearing off a big corporation’s bottom line — I’d only be willing to shoot to save someone’s life. That robber himself is probably a victim of authoritarian society, most likely a War on Drugs that criminalizes something he’s addicted to, making it exorbitantly expensive and forcing a desperate addict to resort to extreme measures.

The one encounter I do see a use for a gun is to thwart an attempted gay-bashing. Which is one of the reasons behind my toying with attending a Pink Pistols meeting. There’s an extremely noxious neofascist movement in this country right now. They’ve killed many of their fellow Americans (and many more innocent foreigners) in an evil imperialist war in Iraq. That may be finally starting to backfire on the bastards.

That’s good news, but they’re ruthless enough that they may just try stirring up some sort of a domestic hate-fest to distract the increasingly restless masses from focusing their anger on the real cause of their miseries. Us queers would make a perfect target, and it’s all too likely that the Nice Liberals would — as always — be more interested in trying to be loved by the neofascists than they would in taking a principled stand on something. In such a situation, there would be real utility in making gay-bashing as risky an endeavor as possible. There always is, in fact, but I don’t particularly feel at much risk right now.

So much for the present; such situations can erupt on a short notice. If one does, I’d rather not have to start at Square One in the process of arming myself and learning how to use my new weapon effectively.

Tue Aug 16 01:40:11 PDT 2005

A Few More Shots

In Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore neglects to explore gun control in Canada and the effect it probably has on gun violence. It’s politically incorrect to say it to the pro-gun-rights crowd, but countries with strict gun control laws do tend to have low levels of gun violence. The rub is that there’s also places with widespread gun ownership that don’t have the gun violence issues the US does.*

To be honest, if I lived in Canada, Canadian-style gun regulations wouldn’t upset me nearly as much as they’d upset me here south of the border. Canada doesn’t have a powerful domestic neofascist movement controlling its national government. In Canada, the government tries to ensure that all have access to health care, instead of merely acting to defend the property rights of medical-industrial complex corporations. There’s actually some sense of social justice there. Sure, it’s there because of a past history of revolutionary activity, which is the only reason any capitalist society ever got any ideas of social justice.

So it would still upset me, but not nearly as much. What the domestic gun-grabbers want is to disarm everybody but the government first. That’s what gun controllers spending money lobbying for. Not for policies to reduce automobile use (and cars kill many more than guns do). Not for universal health care. Not for poverty relief. Not for more labor rights. But for disarming the least powerful in a country where the least powerful are already (for a wealthy, First World nation) anomalously bad off. Fuck that. Unjust social systems deserve to choke to death on their own injustice.

The other interesting thing about Canadian gun control is the motivation behind the most recent round of stricter regulations. Of course, the modern gun control movement in the US has a similarly checkered past, right down to its motivation and one of the chief supporters of the inaugural piece of gun-control legislation.

* Interestingly, (and not surprisingly) Switzerland has universal health care and less social inequality than the US does. Cough, root causes, cough, cough.

Tue Aug 16 11:41:04 PDT 2005

Personally, I Find the .MIL Domain Much More Offensive

What a bunch of utterly worthless prudes. Talk about your textbook examples of idiotic political correctness. This has got to take the cake.

The demand for pornography is so deep-seated that the presence of sexually explicit material on a medium serves as a good indicator of its freedom. If there's no erotica, it's inevitably a result of someone using force to keep it away. It was very hard to buy smut in the ex-USSR or in Falangist Spain.

So, absent creating a draconian censorship apparatus, there will be porn on the internet. Given that some people dislike it and don't want to encounter it, even accidentally, you'd think something like a .XXX domain would be welcomed, as it would help make pornography easy to avoid. See a URL at a .XXX host, you know there's porn there, and can avoid clicking on it.

That the domain is not being welcomed by that crowd can mean one of two things. Either they are idiots incapable of realizing this, or they have sinister plans up their sleeve to impose censorship. Take your pick.

Tue Aug 16 17:57:53 PDT 2005

Is It Something in the Air? Or Maybe a Burst of Strange Cosmic Radiation?

Whatever the reason, it sure seems to be the season for stupid job ads on Craigslist.

Take this ad, for example. Just how is one to reply to it? What is the size of an e-mail message nobody can send? Call it the Zen of stupid ads.

Or how about this one. Are they looking for a Polish language editor, or a Swedish one?

And then we have this ad. Pay attention to the third question and fifth items in the bullet list up top. “Yes” is a software product? Or perhaps they’re looking for people who don’t pay attention when they’re asked questions?

That’s not even including all the normal stupidity, like the Bozos who post ads for “entry level” jobs with three years experience required. Just what is it about the concept of “entry” into a career that these dummies can’t understand? If they require prior experience in the field, it’s not entry level.

Wed Aug 17 23:14:17 PDT 2005

Nuclear Attack Plans for Iran, N. Korea, Others

This is utterly creepy. And I have no doubts that the Bush Regime is actually contemplating doing it. Consider:

Of course, there’s more positive developments taking place as well. Such as the whole Cindy Sheehan story, which appears to really be gathering steam. Exactly why is something of a mystery; there’s been protests aplenty that have featured the relatives of those killed in Iraq. It does help that Sheehan decided to raise a stink in the middle of the summer slow-news season and right outside a gated presidential retreat compound that bored reporters with nothing else to cover were hanging out at. But still, why did it take this long?

We may never know. What history does show is that change can sometimes happen very fast, and the triggering event for it often doesn’t appear too terribly different from dozens of similar earlier events. Unjust political regimes can be swept from office by sea changes that come seemingly out of nowhere. None of the “experts” were predicting the fall of the Soviet Empire until the weeks or even days immediately before it fell.

I first heard this theory espoused at a lecture given by José Ramos-Horta, probably about five years before East Timor gained independence. He likened East Timor’s situation to that of the Baltic States, which had just won independence. At the time, that cause seemed completely and utterly hopeless, yet the interlocking forces that had allowed Indonesia to brutally occupy that nation, wage genocide on its people, and get away with it all evaporated within a few years.

Who knows, the Sheehan story may just be such a turning point. Maybe not; I tend to be overly optimistic about such things. In that light, I must remember to watch the mainstream network news tomorrow evening, just to gauge how much “play” it’s getting.

I sure hope it snowballs. Those monsters in Washington have to be driven from power before they start dropping nukes on Iran (or anyone else).

Thu Aug 18 21:23:29 PDT 2005

The Randroid Cult

It’s a somewhat (somewhat?) sexist quote, but every time I hear about Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism” (quotes because it’s hardly objective), I can’t help think of the description of BASIC in the famous (in the computer geek world) essay Programming Languages Are Like Women:

BASIC — The horny divorcee that lives next door. Her specialty is seducing young boys and it seems she is always readily available for them. She teaches them many amazing things, or at least they seem amazing because it is their first experience. She is not that young herself, but because she was their first lover the boys always remember her fondly. Her cooking and sewing skills are mediocre, but largely irrelevant, it’s the frolicking that the boys like. The opinion that adults have of Mrs. BASIC is varied. Shockingly, some fathers actually introduce their own sons to this immoral woman! But generally the more righteous adults try to correct the badly influenced young men by introducing them to well behaved women like Miss Pascal.
You do run across the rare (very rare) “Objectivist” who falls into a different category, but almost all of them are young, teenaged or twentysomething boys and men for whom Rand is the only (or about the only) thinker whose works they’ve read. They think the world of her, they’re sure everybody else is wrong, and they’re always explaining her ideas to folks as if they’ve never encountered them before. (Trust me; I have. Many times. The computer geek world is full of Randroids.)

It’s not hard to find others who share some of these impressions. Myself, I ran into her when I was a young adult, too. Although I found many of her arguments convincing, I also had this real sense my leg was being pulled and I wasn’t getting the whole story. I had heard stories from back in the days when real-world capitalism was much more laissez-faire, of striking workers being shot with live bullets and children worked to death in coal mines. That certainly didn’t sound like any sort of world I wanted.

Not to mention that “Objectivism” really is a cult-like movement. As well as being chillingly totalitarian in some of its conclusions. Which isn’t completely surprising, given how it claims to have an “objective” answer for practically every question.

“Objectivists” will bristle at the suggestion, but perhaps it’s all a result of it originating in pre- (and early post-) Bolshevik Russia. Like its more (in)famous cousin Leninism, it was a product of a society which embodied very few notions of freedom or liberty, and though ostensibly being in opposition to those unfreedoms, it actually contains the seeds of all of them.

I suspect the only reason there have been no “Objectivist” mass murders is that nobody’s ever attempted to implement it on a society-wide basis anywhere.

Fri Aug 19 15:29:38 PDT 2005

Well, Maybe Not

Seems like yet again, my pessimism about a job interview was premature. And this one’s a real surprise. I still harbor no misconceptions about the odds being stacked against me, but the whole exercise is a bit like pumping quarters into a slot machine: the odds are against me for each pull of the lever, but eventually three of the same symbol are bound to appear.

Thankfully, the odds aren’t stacked in favor of the house on this one; the expected eventual payoff is positive. So, time to pull another lever.

The bad news is that Google has an extensive, multi-step screening process. Thus, the news of my false pessimism means I’ve advanced to the next step in that process, not that I’ve been hired.

Sat Aug 20 22:31:10 PDT 2005

Campus Political Correctness


And don’t think this it the only such instance, or that it just happens in conservative parts of the country. When I worked for the University of Washington in Seattle, the official student paper was controlled by conservatives. A group of liberal and leftist students decided to start a paper of their own to compete with it.* To maximize circulation, it, like the official paper, was free.

The first press run was stolen. Conservative students grabbed as many copies as they could and threw them out. It was denounced as political correctness of the right… in Seattle. Outside of Seattle, nobody heard it. Never even registered a blip on the national radar screen. That was back in the early 90’s when the media was screeching hysterically about the threat to free expression posed by leftist students and faculty.

As a result, all future runs of the paper had an inventive pricing scheme: one copy per person was free, all subsequent copies cost money.

And then there’s the matter of Hamilton College canceling Ward Churchill’s speech. That at least did make it into the national media, but it started as the media ran “can you believe they’re actually letting this guy speak on campus” type pieces. The same media that denounces students that try to cancel right-wing speaker appearances itself instigated a left-wing speaker being canceled.

That’s not to say no left-wing “PC” intolerance exists on campus, only that the reportage of such intolerance is biased and only portrays the intolerance of once side.

*Which in itself is an interesting inversion on the old “conservative students start their own paper to compete with leftist campus rag” line you keep hearing. And that line is incorrect anyhow — look at most of those papers and you find they’re richly funded by corporate moneybags and the projects of organized rightist think-tanks. Hardly spontaneous grassroots stuff. Not that you hear any of these points in the mainstream media, either.

Sun Aug 21 15:15:11 PDT 2005

Bergen: McCarthy Made Me Do It

How many lame excuses have the right wingers tried to cook up for the Iraq War? I’ve lost count. Here’s the latest one that’s caught my notice (full article here):

Note how Sheehan refuses to look at the war as anything but the spawn of President Bush. She won’t acknowledge that the newly elected Iraqi government doesn’t want U.S. troops to leave yet.
Sorry, Ms. Saunders, that turkey don’t fly.

Mon Aug 22 20:33:36 PDT 2005

Garbage Attracts Garbage

Last week, I printed out this and posted it in a window of Laughing Horse Books to counter a long-running display of pro-conspiracy stuff in another window. As luck would have it, that display had vanished by the time I put my piece up.

I’m actually open to any convincing, well-made argument that proves my judgment is incorrect. So far, however, what I’ve heard has only served to reaffirm my belief that I’m right. Most of the arguments presented to me are ones refuted by the very essay that provoked them.

Either my words aren’t being read, those doing the reading have serious reading comprehension issues, or the cognitive dissonance my words provoke is so upsetting that my critics resort to mindlessly repeating refuted arguments, mantra-like, in a vain effort to quell disquieting thoughts. Pick one.

Last weekend, I attended the NICA gathering as part of my ongoing quest to explore living in community. Lo and behold, there were some folks sure 9/11 was an inside job there, too. As well as one fellow spirit who joined me in asking the conspiracy theorists inconvenient questions. The results were not entirely different from arguments prompted by the sign in the bookstore window.

One of the most ardent conspiracy theorists was a guy who took astrology seriously and kept working references to it into the conversation. He also believed in chemtrails and quickly changed the subject when I started mentioning inconvenient (to him) facts about radiosonde data and dew point spreads.

Why was this not a big surprise?

Tue Aug 23 12:05:13 PDT 2005

Fun with Call Letters

This is an amusing way to while away some time, thinking of call letter combinations and typing them in.

It comes up with no matches for WART and KRAP. Perhaps the FCC would refuse to grant the latter even if someone did request it.

As to what is out there, I’ve always wondered how this station managed to deal with call letters that were something of an, um, liability during the Cold War years. And, perhaps appropriately enough, KAKA appears to be a Christian fundamentalist station.

If you want to find out the the WHAT and WHYY of a story, head to Philadelphia. But for the WHO and the WHEN you’ll have to be in Des Moines or Syracuse, respectively.

What kind of people are behind KOOK (Junction City, TX), anyhow? And does the FCC, with all its prudishness over things sexual, know that there’s KINK on the air here in Portland?

Thu Aug 25 09:43:32 PDT 2005

Propagandizing to the Kiddies

I’m 90+% sure that this book is actually a children’s book, not an adult book written in the children’s book format like this.

As for the other two books mentioned in the review of Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed (no, I’m not making this title up, click the first link):

Both seem consistent with the conservative book’s premise that the Nanny State should butt out of people’s personal decisions.

Not a surprise, really. The conservatives lie to everyone else when they profess to be concerned primarily about liberty in the face of an ever more intrusive government. Why shouldn’t they lie to the kiddies as well?

Fri Aug 26 14:32:53 PDT 2005

Limbaugh Contradicts Himself Twice on Own Home Page

Limbaugh’s lies
Two contradictions on one web page! Click to enlarge.

Look at the bottom left of the screenshot I just took while browsing Mr. Oxycontin’s site.

Lie No. 1 is “Only the rich pay taxes.” Demonstrably false, and directly contradicted by the headline below it, “NEW UPDATED FIGURES: Top 20% Pay 80% of Taxes.” Which, in fact, constitutes Lie No. 2 for the reason expressed by the text on the green pie chart to the left and below the two headlines: the claim of the top 20% paying 80% is for the federal income tax only, not “taxes” as a whole.

The whole discussion of how much of the tax burden is born by the top 20% is bogus, anyhow. Suppose the top 20% did pay 80% of all taxes. That would still be a meaningless statement about tax fairness without knowing what percentage of the national income that top 20% earned. Suppose they earned 90% of it — in that case, the fact that they’re only paying 80% of taxes means the tax burden still falls hardest on the the non-rich.

Even that’s an oversimplification. Assume a society where 1% are rich, 19% are middle class, 80% are poor, the middle class pays most taxes, and the rich get off mostly tax-free. The statement “the top 20% pay most of the taxes” would still be true in such a society, and demogagues could (and probably would) use it to argue that the taxes on the rich need to be cut further.

When it comes to something like economic policy, you’re dealing with something so complex that a single number presented in isolation is often worse than useless. Yes, worse. If you had no statistics available, you’d be forced to face the fact that you knew nothing. That’s better than having just a few numbers in isolation and actually believing the opposite of what is the case to be true.

Fri Aug 26 15:14:09 PDT 2005

The Other Thing about Rush

Whenever he’s been cornered and confronted with the lies he’s told on his show, he comes back (sometimes after attempting — almost always unsuccessfully — to back up his assertions) with the claim that he’s just an entertainer and not a serious political analyst (and would the mean old liberals and leftists please stop picking on him).

Then he turns around and offers products like this. Note that it’s being marketed as a “news, commentary, and analysis” periodical — not a collection of entertaining articles intended strictly for amusement purposes. Also note how he describes himself as “America’s anchorman” (emphasis added). That’s right, “anchorman,” not “entertainer” or “radio personality.”

Either he was lying when he claimed to be only an entertainer, or he’s lying when he claims to be a serious political analyst and/or news reporter.

Fri Aug 26 15:58:05 PDT 2005



Tue Aug 30 16:58:36 PDT 2005

Not Insane in the Least

Despite the comment from the Philadelphia tourist, I can’t find this insane.

Let’s review now:

Put yourself in the position of one of those survivors. Nobody’s cared about rescuing you; the only people that really counted were those with more money than you have. People like the owners of the shops in your city. Shops closed and not about to reopen precisely because the owners fled town. Shops with blown-out windows that can be walked through. Shops whose merchandise is about to be ruined by the disease-ridden and polluted water streaming through levee breaks and flooding your city. Merchandise that, in many cases, you need because you’re running low on necessities and relief can’t easily get to you because of flooded highways.

How can it be anything but logical to help yourself to some of that merchandise in such a situation? The still photos I’ve seen seem very revealing; nobody looks particularly menacing or threatening. The “looters” seem to be of all ages and genders; it’s not just young gang-bangers we’re talking about. In fact, I've noticed numerous scenes showing mothers with their children.

I’ve dragged out the TV and turned it on tonight. NBC News had two segments on the “looting” and the most violent scene they showed was of a young man throwing a rock at a store window, trying to break it. One scene showed people walking calmly into and out of a Walgreen’s, passing right by the camera, while across the street a trumpeter played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Put aside the fact that money hadn’t been exchanged for the merchandise being taken out, and it could have been a normal street scene.

One phrase NBC trotted out was “every man for himself.” That seems to be directly contradicted by their own footage, which showed many examples of people helping each other (and not just to carry stuff out of stores). Looks more like the key defining behavior in the aftermath of this disaster is cooperation, not individualistic competition. If you want a real example of “every man for himself,” look at that evacuation plan the authorities came up with.

With all that so-called “breakdown” of “law and order,” there’s been only one person shot (not fatally, thankfully) so far. That one shooting is tragic, but let’s have some perspective here. In 2004, there were 265 murders in New Orleans. That’s just the dead; it doesn’t cover the non-fatal assaults with deadly weapons. Add those in and we’re probably well above 1 per day on average. If it really was an outbreak of barbarism, the violence would be much worse.

Instead, there’s very little of it, Just lots of peaceful folks who have decided that those stores are, in the words of one man, “everybody’s store[s].” A breakdown, in other words, of law but not order.

Wed Aug 31 00:09:27 PDT 2005

Okay, Now This Looks a Little More Like Insanity
Looters swarmed the Wal-mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, often bypassing the food and drink section to steal wide-screen TVs, jewelry, bicycles and computers. Watching the sordid display and shaking his head in disgust, one firefighter said of the scene: "It’s a f---- hurricane, what are you do with a basketball goal?"
Full story here. Not that it isn’t understandable how the left-behinds wouldn’t particularly feel any sense of commonality with a system that, well, left them behind. Or that it’s going to help Wal-Mart’s bottom line any to have the sports equipment spoiled by polluted floodwaters inside their store as opposed to having it stolen and then spoiled.

Of course, the system whose evacuation plans focused most on those who didn’t need to evacuate continues to mess things up. From the same article:

Then, in an evening press conference, Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the already crippled city would take yet another blow: Another surge of water from the failed 17th Street Canal levee that could push an additional 10 feet of water into already waterlogged neighborhoods – and possibly flood the remaining dry sections of Uptown.

The expected surge stems from a failure to execute a plan to dump sandbags via helicopter into the 200 yard wide breach. Nagin offered up no culprit but promised to investigate the matter.

"I thought everyone understood this morning that that was the highest priority," the mayor said. "It didn’t get done. Now there’s nothing to slow down the pace of the water."

So, the insanity clearly isn’t confined to stealing sports equipment in the middle of a disaster. I can think of two possible reasons for that:
  1. Too many Guardsmen busy patrolling against looters.
  2. Too many Guardsmen half a world away in Iraq.
Not so sure about how preoccupied they were with No. 1, dead positive lots are preoccupied with No. 2.

And local officials remain as clueless as ever that 20% of New Orleans residents won’t be driving their cars out of town for the simple reason that they can’t:

"Get out," said City Attorney Sherry Landry from the window of the SUV she would use to evacuate. "I’m serious."

For many, that wasn’t an option. In the impoverished 9th Ward, many didn’t flee the storm in the first place because of lack of money and transportation, as well as a belief the storm wouldn’t be nearly as bad as threatened. On Tuesday, they remained the focus of efforts to evacuate the newly homeless to the already crowded Superdome.

Wed Aug 31 02:10:39 PDT 2005

Worse Than Camille

People tend to focus too much on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, which is related to wind speed. By that measure, Katrina was simply one of a dozen or two Category 4 hurricanes. Bad, but not exceptional.

Wind, however, isn’t the real problem. Storm surge is: gases compress and don’t have much density; liquids are orders of magnitude more dense and can’t compress. A mass of water slamming into something is far more damaging than a mass of air.

If you look at some of the classic aerial photographs showing complete devastation by Camille, pay attention to the margins of the frame farthest from the beach. You’ll often see intact (or mostly intact) buildings. That’s the edge of the surge zone. Being not a half mile from the beach, Camille’s screeching winds were only marginally slower, but free from the devastating effect of wind-driven waves, buildings (and those in them) had a chance of survival.

While there is a general correlation between wind speed and storm surge, it’s a loose correlation, not a rigid one. Many factors come into play. The upshot is that Camille’s maximum surge was 24.5 feet — at the time a record in North America. That record stood until this week. Katrina’s maximum surge was an incredible 30 feet.

That’s why numerous people who lived through both have independently volunteered that Katrina was worse. It’s also why there’s going to be a lot more dead bodies found before it’s over — many people had stayed behind because they thought they were safe in their homes, because they had survived Camille intact.

Wed Aug 31 10:42:11 PDT 2005

Guardsmen Not the Only Ones Distracted in Iraq

The Army Corps of Engineers was as well, thus delaying efforts to strengthen and repair levees.

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Last updated: Tue Sep 13 16:14:09 PDT 2011