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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
[...] There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.
There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.
[...] More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.
The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against whis year as further evidence this year as further evidence tr as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.
And more, it's the whole:
[...] "On the day she circumcised Sheelan, the midwife began the ritual by laying down an empty white potato sack to serve as her working area. AK-47 assault rifles hung from the wall of the dingy concrete house, and watermelons rested below.
When Sheelan entered the room, her mother, Nawchas and a local woman placed the girl on a tiny wooden stool the size of a brick. The midwife applied yellow antiseptic to her pelvic area and injected her with lignocaine, an anesthetic. Little children peeked through the window to see what the noise was about.
"It's all right, it's all right," Sheelan's mother whispered, as the girl screamed so loudly her face turned red. She tried to bunch up her skirt over her pelvis and shield the area with her hand, but the women jerked her arms back.
[...]On the day she circumcised Sheelan, the midwife began the ritual by laying down an empty white potato sack to serve as her working area. AK-47 assault rifles hung from the wall of the dingy concrete house, and watermelons rested below.
When Sheelan entered the room, her mother, Nawchas and a local woman placed the girl on a tiny wooden stool the size of a brick. The midwife applied yellow antiseptic to her pelvic area and injected her with lignocaine, an anesthetic. Little children peeked through the window to see what the noise was about.
"It's all right, it's all right," Sheelan's mother whispered, as the girl screamed so loudly her face turned red. She tried to bunch up her skirt over her pelvis and shield the area with her hand, but the women jerked her arms back.
Then Nawchas uttered the prayer, made a swift cut, and immediately moved the girl over a pile of ashes to control the bleeding.
WE BLOGGED BEFORE YOU DID. MOST OF YOU. Kneel before Amygdala's 7th anniversary of blogging now:
Worship the Rest Of This Blog Scale: 6 out of 5. Worship now!
You may append your fervent messages of awe and thankfulness as to how we led you into blogging and a far wider world of knowledge and sophistication than you knew prior to 2001. Post your awe-struck realizations that without Amgydala, you'd never have been lead into a wider world
Then kneel. Contemplate cash contributions. And sexual favors. And simple messages of gratitude as to how Amygdala has changed your life.
There are just too many ways to list. Be awe-struck.
And spend 2009 contemplating how to pay back the debt you'll never be able to pay back Amygdala. Because it's the right thing to do.
[...] At home in Managua, knowing how readily bacterial disease follows on the heels of disaster, Rivera remembered an object he encountered years earlier in Ecuador, a simple terra cotta pot that looked like the sort of thing in which the rest of us — the earth’s less vulnerable — might plant our springtime geraniums. Made of clay mixed with some grist — usually sawdust or ground rice husk that would burn off later in the kiln — and then shaped carefully, this pot had thousands of micropores. And those pores, along with a coating of antibacterial silver solution, allowed it to perform a small but significant miracle: removing 98 to 100 percent of the bacteria from contaminated water, making it safe to drink.
Convinced that he could help indigenous potters mass-produce clay-pot water filters for their own communities if the process for making them could be standardized, Rivera began to experiment, calculating the optimal size and clay composition. He then designed a mold for the filter and a special clay press that was operated with a tire jack, which he figured was one of earth’s more universally available bits of technology. Rather than applying for a patent, Rivera posted his work, in painstaking detail, on the Internet. The filter, which costs roughly $15 to make, rests inside a lidded five-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot. It purifies enough daily water for a family of six.
Collaborating with health organizations and relief groups, Rivera helped native potters build filter factories in Colombia, Honduras and El Salvador. He did it in Kenya, Cambodia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Darfur. He often traveled in the wake of water-related disasters — following floods in Ghana or a tsunami in Sri Lanka — capitalizing on the rush of aid money to establish a locally owned enterprise that would sustain itself long after he left.
According to the United Nations, more than five million people die each year from diseases related to unclean drinking water. Most live in developing countries and, overwhelmingly, they are children under the age of 5. Rivera liked to say that he wouldn’t rest until he “put a dent” in the problem, which by his calculation meant setting up 100 water-filter factories, creating enough pottery to provide safe water to at least four million people. His friends nicknamed him “Ron Rapido” for his velocity and vigor and for the impatient way he suffered through meetings.
In August, standing in a village in rural Nigeria, having just finished his 30th filter factory, Rivera expressed a larger impatience. “How is it,” he mused to an engineering student with whom he was traveling, “that scientists can work so hard on improving TVs and cellphones when so many people don’t even have clean water to drink?”
He didn’t yet know that a mosquito, presumably bred in a nearby swamp, would infect him with a particularly virulent form of malaria, nor that he would die — back in Managua, his wife at his side — only two weeks later. But surely he knew by then that solutions, like problems, are capable of crossing borders, of pollinating like seeds on the wind.
Since his death, Rivera’s protégés at Potters for Peace have fanned out to continue the work. There are filter factories planned for Bolivia, Rwanda, Somaliland and Mozambique — a global legion of local potters, as Rivera would have it, poised to lay their hands on the problem.
We should all only make a difference in the lives of millions of people before we die.
[...] What the two men said 36 years ago can be known with such precision today because they worked in what was, in retrospect, the golden age of White House taping. Both Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had given secret orders to record their calls, each evidently without the other’s knowledge.
On Tuesday, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research group at George Washington University, published an online edition of transcripts of 15,000 Kissinger phone calls from 1969 to 1977, fully indexed and searchable for the first time. A selection was posted on the archive’s Web site, nsarchive.org, and the full collection is available to subscribers, which include many university libraries.
Mr. Burr said the Kissinger calls “rank right up there with the Nixon tapes as the most candid, revealing and valuable trove of records on the exercise of executive power.”
The indexing, the work of three researchers for more than two years, presented some puzzles. Names dropped casually in conversation — “Hal” or “Fred” — had to be identified. And what a government transcriber had heard as “Nelson’s tongue,” in a 1971 call, turned out to be “Mao Zedong.”
Indeed, I've often found, when actually listening to Nixon tapes, that transcripts have obvious errors of that sort, and that the real wording is perfectly clear to my ear.
One of the more unusual conversations:
[...] In April 1971, Mr. Kissinger accepted a call from the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who hoped to arrange a meeting between top Nixon administration officials and antiwar activists.
“Perhaps you don’t know how to get out of the war,” Ginsberg ventured.
Mr. Kissinger said he was open to a meeting. “I like to do this,” he said, “not just for the enlightenment of the people I talk to, but to at least give me a feel of what concerned people think.”
Then Ginsberg upped the ante. “It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television,” he said.
Mr. Kissinger’s reply is transcribed simply as “Laughter.”
Actual Kissinger tapes here -- audio and transcripts both.
[...] Kissinger: Reagan congratulated you. He said this was one of the greatest weeks of the American Presidency. He just--He was bubbling. And Nancy, whose got a hell of a lot more brains than he has-- Nixon: Um-hmm.
SEEING WHILE BLIND. It appears that using the Force works.
Well, not exactly:
[...] When he finally tried it, though, something remarkable happened. He zigzagged down the hall, sidestepping a garbage can, a tripod, a stack of paper and several boxes as if he could see everything clearly. A researcher shadowed him in case he stumbled.
“You just had to see it to believe it,” said Beatrice de Gelder, a neuroscientist at Harvard and Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who with an international team of brain researchers reported on the patient on Monday in the journal Current Biology. A video is online at www.beatricedegelder.com/books.html.
The study, which included extensive brain imaging, is the most dramatic demonstration to date of so-called blindsight, the native ability to sense things using the brain’s primitive, subcortical — and entirely subconscious — visual system.
The man in the new study, an African living in Switzerland at the time, suffered the two strokes in his 50s, weeks apart, and was profoundly blind by any of the usual measures. Unlike people suffering from eye injuries, or congenital blindness in which the visual system develops abnormally, his brain was otherwise healthy, as were his eyes, so he had the necessary tools to process subconscious vision. What he lacked were the circuits that cobble together a clear, conscious picture.
Cells in the retina project not only to the visual cortex — the destroyed regions in this man — but also to subcortical areas, which in T. N. were intact. These include the superior colliculus, which is crucial in eye movements and may have other sensory functions; and, probably, circuits running through the amygdala, which registers emotion.
In an earlier experiment, one of the authors of the new paper, Dr. Alan Pegna of Geneva University Hospitals, found that the same African doctor had emotional blindsight. When presented with images of fearful faces, he cringed subconsciously in the same way that almost everyone does, even though he could not consciously see the faces. The subcortical, primitive visual system apparently registers not only solid objects but also strong social signals.
In time, and with practice, people with brain injuries may learn to lean more heavily on such subconscious or semiconscious systems, and perhaps even begin to construct some conscious vision from them.
In the end, it wasn't close. By an overwhelming margin, criticism by Cokie Roberts, NPR contributing senior news analyst and ABC political commentator, of then-Sen. Barack Obama for choosing Hawaii, the state of his birth, to take his August family vacation was the most popular entry in Media Matters for America's poll for Most Inane Punditry of the 2008 presidential campaign. Readers chose Roberts' comments -- which included her characterizing Hawaii, where Obama vacations regularly, as "foreign, exotic" -- in greater numbers than her two closest competitors combined. Roberts stated: "I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place," adding, "He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time."
Vote totals in percentages*:
Cokie Roberts on Obama's Hawaii vacation: "I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state," but it looks "foreign, exotic": 38.65%
Scarborough on Obama's "dainty" bowling performance: "Americans want their president, if it's a man, to be a real man": 16.76%
Barnes: Obama not "strong on national security" because he opposed war "when the entire world believed" Saddam had WMD: 16.71%
Brooks thinks Obama wouldn't seem to "fit in naturally" at an Applebee's salad bar -- maybe because Applebee's doesn't have them: 5.95%
Defending Givhan's cleavage coverage, Harwood asserted "calculati[ng]" Clinton knew "what she was communicating by her dress": 5.79%
Fox News' Hill criticizes Clinton for leaving too large a tip, accuses her of "spending like a Learjet liberal": 5.59%
On Hardball, Matthews and Shuster critiqued Obama's "weird" beverage selection at Indiana diner: 4.80%
Matthews on Obama shooting pool: "[I]t's not what most people play. People with money play pool these days": 2.48%
Matthews: "Who would win a street fight ... Rudy Giuliani or President Ahmadinejad": 2.30%
Politico's Simon now on to a different part of Romney's anatomy: "shoulders you could land a 737 on": 0.97%
Everybody knows a forgetful stoner, but research suggests that low doses of marijuana could be good for memory, and even help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
When given a compound similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, rat brains displayed reduced levels of inflammation associated with Alzheimer's disease. The drug also stimulated the production of proteins associated with memory formation and brain cell growth.
"Everyone is aware that smoking too much marijuana impairs memory," said Ohio State University psychologist Yannick Marchalant. "Our work stays on the safe side — doses that we know are not going to impair memory, but improved it."
Marchalant and fellow OSU psychologist Gary Wenk previously showed that marijuana can improve memory formation in rats. The latest research, presented at this week's Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, provides a detailed look at THC's effect on the brain.
It's far too soon to extrapolate the findings directly to people, but the researchers hope it will inform the development of targeted (and legal) drugs — and in the meantime, they say, there might be a role for marijuana in preventing age-related neurodegeneration.
"What we're looking at is preventing the inflammation-induced impairment of memory that you see in normal and pathological aging," said Marchalant. "We'll try to find safe drugs that you can use 10 or 20 years beforehand."
The compound used by the researchers isn't identical to THC, but marijuana likely produces some of the same effects, he said.
[...] Several Dubliners said they sometimes wonder whether someone bumming money off them is really destitute or prefers begging to working.
"I have seen people coming out of a house with a sign that said 'HOMELESS,' " said Kate White, 26, an architecture student in Dublin. "It's well known you can generate a good income this way."
People can walk out of houses because a friend or relative, or kindly stranger, has let them stay the night on the floor or a couch. People can even stay on some friend's floor or couch for days, weeks, and months, under all sorts of conditions, such as, perhaps, that they only get to sleep there and otherwise have to be out, or they can only sleep there, say, one night a week, and otherwise must rotate through other places to sleep the other six days.
And so on.
Being inside a house doesn't mean you actually own it or rent it or have any actual living privileges there.
Homeless people can actually be inside someone's home and still be homeless. They can even stay with someone, and they're still homeless, because it's not their home, and they can be turfed out on whim.
Villagers, acting as human minesweepers, walked ahead of troops in dangerous areas to keep Americans from being blown up. Prisoners were subjected to a variation on waterboarding and jolted with electricity. Teenage boys fishing on a lake, as well as children tending flocks of ducks, were killed. “There are hundreds of such reports in the war-crime archive, each one dutifully recorded, sometimes with no more than a passing sentence or two, as if the killing were as routine as the activity it interrupted,” Deborah Nelson writes in “The War Behind Me.”
The archive, housed at the University of Michigan, holds documents from Col. Henry Tufts, former chief of the Army’s investigative unit, that reveal widespread killing and abuse by American troops in Vietnam. Most of these actions are not known to the public, even though the military investigated them. The crimes are similar to those committed at My Lai in 1968. Yet, as Nelson contends, most Americans still think the violence was the work of “a few rogue units,” when in fact “every major division that served in Vietnam was represented.” Precisely how many soldiers were involved, and to what extent, is not known, but she shows that the abuse was far more common than is generally believed. Her book helps explain how this misunderstanding came about.
After the My Lai story broke, officials acted quickly. They looked into other crimes — for example, studying anonymous letters sent to superiors by “Concerned Sgt.,” which described the deaths of hundreds of civilians, or “a My Lai each month for over a year.” Serious offenses were indeed investigated, and 23 men were found guilty, though most got off easy. The harshest sentence was 20 years’ hard labor, for the rape of a 13-year-old girl by an interrogator in a prisoner-of-war compound. The rapist served seven months and 16 days.
“Get the Army off the front page,” President Richard Nixon reportedly said. Investigations were a good way to do that. A cover-up attracts attention; a crime that is being looked into does not. The military investigations, Nelson argues, were designed not to hold rapists and murderers accountable, but to deflect publicity. When reporters heard about a war crime, they’d call the Army to see if it would provide information. If they suspected a cover-up, they’d pursue the story. If a military spokesman said an investigation was under way, the story was usually dropped.
The book's website is here. An excerpt from the book:
[...] The archive collection contained hundreds of sworn statements from soldiers and veterans who committed or witnessed rapes, torture, murders, massacres, and other illegal acts. There were letters from soldiers, statistical reports, and case summaries. When we hand-entered the data into a spreadsheet, it became clear the problem was much bigger than a few bad men: Every major division that served in Vietnam was represented. We counted more than 300 allegations in cases that were substantiated by the army’s own investigations. Some had never been revealed; others had been publicly disputed while the army remained silent about its findings. Five hundred allegations couldn’t be proven or weren’t fully investigated. According to officers who helped compile the records, those numbers represented only a small fraction of the war crimes committed in Vietnam.
Many veterans tried to alert the Pentagon and the public to the problem in the early 1970s at forums sponsored by such groups as Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Most famously, John Kerry, then a leader in the organization, testified on Capitol Hill on April 22, 1971, that U.S. forces had “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war....”
Within days, the declassified records show, the White House quietly requested a list of war-crime investigations from the army. The staff at the Pentagon was ready with a lengthy response that reported 213 suspects and included confirmed cases of acts from the litany cited in Kerry’s testimony. Yet the Nixon administration went ahead with an aggressive backroom campaign to discredit as fabricators and traitors Kerry and other veterans who spoke out about war crimes. The president and White House aides worked closely with a rival organization, Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace, to publicly condemn the allegations. “The big lie” became the group’s familiar drumbeat. Years later, the founder of the group would boast, “Americans got the message that a motley crew of exaggerators and frauds didn’t speak for Vietnam veterans.” The impression stuck. By the mid-1980s, the whistle-blowers largely had been silenced, and conventional wisdom held that atrocities in Vietnam were overblown. The controversy resurfaced in 2004, when Kerry ran for president. His old detractors ran ads demanding that he disavow his 1971 testimony, confident they would play to a receptive audience; their efforts contributed to his defeat. All the while, the army had evidence in its files that he had spoken the truth.
I point this out not to in any way indict U.S. soldiers as any more brutal or criminal than any other country's; they're not; nor do I intend to slur any individuals, nor our Armed Forces. I merely note that these are the things that happen in war, and it's why we should be very very very reluctant to ever go to war. Because acts and events such as these are the inevitable result, no matter the best of intentions and efforts.
Which isn't to say that our historically politically-run armed forces, which are ordered from the top to support the president's policies, and not make the war, any given war, look bad, are all run with the best of intentions from the top; they're often not so much; but that's an even deeper, and more important, problem.
Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5, as much as you can stand. Particularly the Tiger Force series. Corroboration.
[...] For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public.
They dropped grenades into underground bunkers where women and children were hiding - creating mass graves - and shot unarmed civilians, in some cases as they begged for their lives.
They frequently tortured and shot prisoners, severing ears and scalps for souvenirs.
A review of thousands of classified Army documents, National Archives records, and radio logs reveals a fighting unit that carried out the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War - and commanders who looked the other way.
For 41/2 years, the Army investigated the platoon, finding numerous eyewitnesses and substantiating war crimes. But in the end, no one was prosecuted, the case buried in the archives for three decades.
No one knows how many unarmed men, women, and children were killed by platoon members 36 years ago.
At least 81 were fatally shot or stabbed, records show, but many others were killed in what were clear violations of U.S. military law and the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Based on more than 100 interviews with The Blade of former Tiger Force soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, the platoon is estimated to have killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in those seven months.
"We weren't keeping count," said former Pvt. Ken Kerney, a California firefighter. "I knew it was wrong, but it was an acceptable practice."
# Commanders knew about the platoon's atrocities in 1967, and in some cases, encouraged the soldiers to continue the violence.
# Two soldiers who tried to stop the atrocities were warned by their commanders to remain quiet before transferring to other units.
# The Army investigated 30 war-crime allegations against Tiger Force between February, 1971, and June, 1975, finding a total of 18 soldiers committed crimes, including murder and assault. But no one was ever charged.
# Six platoon soldiers suspected of war crimes - including an officer - were allowed to resign during the investigation, escaping military prosecution.
# The findings of the investigation were sent to the offices of the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense, records show, but no action was taken.
# Top White House officials, including John Dean, former chief counsel to President Richard Nixon, repeatedly were sent reports on the progress of the investigation.
To this day, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command refuses to release thousands of records that could explain what happened and why the case was dropped. Army spokesman Joe Burlas said last week it may have been difficult to press charges, but he couldn't explain flaws in the investigation.
The Army interviewed 137 witnesses and tracked down former Tiger Force members in more than 60 cities around the world.
But for the past three decades, the case has not even been a footnote in the annals of one of the nation's most divisive wars.
[...] US officials say that this past April, as militia terror escalated, a top US officer was dispatched to give a message to Jakarta. Adm. Dennis Blair, the US Commander in Chief of the Pacific, leader of all US military forces in the Pacific region, was sent to meet with General Wiranto, the Indonesian armed forces commander, on April 8. Blair's mission, as one senior US official told me, was to tell Wiranto that the time had come to shut the militia operation down. The gravity of the meeting was heightened by the fact that two days before, the militias had committed a horrific machete massacre at the Catholic church in Liquiça, Timor. YAYASAN HAK, a Timorese human rights group, estimated that many dozens of civilians were murdered. Some of the victims' flesh was reportedly stuck to the walls of the church and a pastor's house. But Admiral Blair, fully briefed on Liquiça, quickly made clear at the meeting with Wiranto that he was there to reassure the TNI chief. According to a classified cable on the meeting, circulating at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance.
According to the cable, which was drafted by Col. Joseph Daves, US military attaché in Jakarta, Admiral Blair "told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest in conjunction with the next round of bilateral defense discussions in the July-August '99 time frame. He said Pacific command is prepared to support a subject matter expert exchange for doctrinal development. He expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to police and...selected TNI personnel on crowd control measures."
Admiral Blair at no point told Wiranto to stop the militia operation, going the other way by inviting him to be his personal guest in Hawaii. Blair told Wiranto that the United States would initiate this new riot-control training for the Indonesian armed forces. This was quite significant, because it would be the first new US training program for the Indonesian military since 1992. Although State Department officials had been assured in writing that only police and no soldiers would be part of this training, Blair told Wiranto that, yes, soldiers could be included. So although Blair was sent in with the mission of telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, he did the opposite.
Indonesian officers I spoke to said Wiranto was delighted by the meeting. They took this as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.
So that was it. No admonition. When Wiranto referred to disarming the WANRA force, he was talking about another militia force, different from the one that was staging attacks on Timorese civilians. When word got back to the State Department that Blair had said these things in a meeting, an "eyes only" cable was dispatched from the State Department to Ambassador Stapleton Roy at the embassy in Jakarta. The thrust of this cable was that what Blair had done was unacceptable and that it must be reversed. As a result of that cable from Washington to Roy, a corrective phone call was arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That call took place on April 18.
I have the official report on that phone call, which was written by Blair's aide, Lieut. Col. Tom Sidwell. According to the account of the call and according to US military officials I spoke to, once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down. In fact, Blair instead permitted Wiranto to make, in essence, a political speech saying the same thing he had said before.
At no point did Blair demand that the militias be shut down, and in fact this call was followed by escalating militia violence and increases in concrete, new US military assistance to Indonesia, including the sending in of a US Air Force trainer just weeks ago to train the Indonesian Air Force.
That's how Admiral Blair served the last Democratic President. I'd like to know more about these events, and how he's likely to serve the new Democratic President.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5. Not to be confused with Dennis Moore.
ADDENDUM, 12/19/08, 11:26 a.m.: Welcome, Crooks And Liars readers! Do feel free to check out other recent posts. (Also, donations, see sidebar, always welcome.)
ADDENDUM, 12/19/08, 12:58 p.m.: It says here that:
[...] Among remaining vacancies on Mr. Obama’s team, all are non-cabinet posts, most prominently top intelligence jobs, with Mr. Obama still not settled on a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and apparently not ready to announce the expected appointment of Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral, as director of national intelligence.
So there's some fuzziness as to whether Blair's appointment is a done deal or not.
Naturally, I take full credit. :-)
ADDENDUM, 11/21/08, 11:24 p.m.: More coverage of Blair. The sole mention of the above issues:
[...] But he also clashed with lawmakers and State Department officials over his efforts to strengthen ties to Indonesia’s military, which he saw as an important moderating force in the Muslim nation. Some officials in Washington objected to the Pentagon’s dealing with a military with a long track record of human rights abuses.
Very anodyne, eh?
The story does, however, also mention this also entirely relevant concern:
[...]although his Navy background raised concerns from some members of Congress about the “militarization” of intelligence at a time when the Pentagon still controls a significant part of the intelligence budget.
The current director of national intelligence is a retired admiral, and the current director of the CIA is a retired general. Obama's National Security Advisor nominee, James L. Jones, is a retired general. And so on.
The Washington Post also has a story on Admiral Blair, by Dana Priest. Relevant sentences about Indonesia?
[...] Blair is likely to face Senate questions about his role in maintaining U.S. military ties with Indonesia's military during a period in which it engaged in human rights violations, and about his corporate ties to a company involved in the F-22 Raptor program.
There are also members of Congress who remain uncomfortable with giving the top intelligence job, with its range of priorities, to a former military officer.
I don't imagine the militarization of American foreign policy and intelligence, however, will actually be enough to defeat any individual nominee; it's too diffuse an issue. Alas.
Later in the story, on Indonesia:
[...] In the Pacific, he butted heads with the State Department and Congress over his desire to maintain ties with the Indonesian military despite its human rights record and its involvement in East Timor atrocities. "Militaries that are doing something bad at times go into their shell," he said at the time. "It's them against the world." A more fruitful strategy, he insisted, is to make them feel a kinship with professional militaries.
Robert Gelbard, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, opposed Blair's push to work with that country's military in 2000, but he endorses Blair as director of national intelligence. "We had a legitimate policy disagreement. But he has a tremendous analytic mind and commands a lot of respect in Washington. His appointment comes at a time when there needs to be a critical reassessment of what the ODNI does," Gelbard said.
More detailed than the Times, but also not exactly hard-hitting. Quotes from critics of Blair? Zero.
Lastly, the LA Times has a story. No mention of Indonesia whatever.
ADDENDUM, January 5th, 8:29 p.m.: More confirmation (unofficially, still) of the Blair nomination. Where are all the big name left blogs on this? Why is almost everyone silent? Are people going to suddenly discover the problems only after the nomination is official? Why can't I get anyone to listen to me about this, he said forlornly?
ADDENDUM, January 6th, 4:35 p.m.: Thanks to Kevin Drum for posting!
ADDENDUM, January 6th, 10:46 p.m.: Thanks also to Steve Benen for the round-up mention.
ALSO, DEMONIZING THE OTHER SIDE AS UNPATRIOTIC TRAITORSwill do it.
[...] And while he will miss many things about Washington, he won’t miss “the petty name-calling,” Mr. Bush said.
“I came with the idea of changing the tone in Washington, and frankly didn’t do a very good job of it,” he said. “You know, war brings out a lot of heated rhetoric and a lot of emotion. I fully understand that.”
It's not as if Bush's chief political operative choosing this strategy had anything to do with it:
[...] "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery on 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."
Of course, the administration tried to make up for this error in judgment.
[...] White House press secretary Scott McClellan said there was no reason for Rove to apologize because he was “simply pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.”
“Of course not,” McClellan said when asked by reporters whether Bush would ask Rove to apologize.
“I think what Karl Rove said is accurate and reflects a big difference between the two parties,” added Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman.
“I think they (Democrats) have a pre-9/11 world view and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons President Bush was re-elected because the American people understood they wanted a president and a philosophy that took on the terrorists abroad to keep us safer at home and guide our ways,” he said.
No, the Bush administration's deliberate choice of these sorts of strategies had nothing to do with the tone in Washington. It was just "war," abstractly, that caused it all.
[...] Nearly seven months since he moved into the White House and nine months since he ended a campaign in which he presented himself as an outsider to Washington, Mr. Bush is still playing the out-of-towner, still describing himself as a stranger in a strange and often unappealing land. But as the responses of the students here suggested, it is a role that may be getting harder to pull off.
Mr. Bush muses about the unimpeachable values to be found in the broad swath of the country between the coasts, which means the areas far away from Washington.
[...] Just as Newt Gingrich once counseled that Democrats should be portrayed as "the enemy of normal Americans," Republicans, from President Bush on down, endlessly assert that only they and those who support them are real Americans. When he travels to the Midwest or South, Bush calls it a "Home to the Heartland Tour."
"Whenever I go home to the heartland," Bush says, "I am reminded of the values that build strong families, strong communities and strong character, the values that make our people unique." The implication, of course, is that the other parts of America are not so strong in those values -- and not so American.
This strategy runs back in the Bush family through Lee Atwater, and back to Reagan and Nixon, and back before them to the Republican tradition of "populism" which includes running against "cosmopolitans," and "Jewish bankers," and has a long, deep, and broad Republican pedigree:
[...] No Democrat would dare to suggest that Omaha is not really part of America, but when the Democratic Party elected to hold its 2004 convention in Boston, House Majority Leader Dick Armey quipped, "If I were a Democrat, I suspect I'd feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in Boston than, say, America."
But George W. Bush's personal responsibility? In 2004, a CBS/NY Times poll:
[...] HAS GEORGE W. BUSH?
Brought different groups together? 32% Divided them? 51%
Norm Coleman's apparent lead has been cut to a mere five votes at the close of business today, according to the running vote count from the Star Tribune, down from a 358-vote lead last night. Al Franken seems poised to take the lead tomorrow as the state canvassing board sorts through the remaining hundreds of ballot challenges from the Coleman campaign, which have been mostly frivolous attempts to throw out Franken votes.
Check out the post for an analysis of how this has worked out, or for a more detailed and historic view, go through Nate Silver's posts. See here for an account of today's Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, if you're truly obsessive.
Read The Rest Scale: as interested. I'm just wowed at the notion that Al Franken may, in fact (crossed fingers and no counting of Gallus gallus here), become a U.S. Senator.
BOMB-THROWING. The Bush administration can't resist appeasing their right-wing religious supporters with pointless crap like this in their closing days:
[...] The rule prohibits recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and health care aides who refuse to take part in procedures because of their convictions, and it bars hospitals, clinics, doctors’ office and pharmacies from forcing their employees to assist in programs and activities financed by the department.
“This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience,” Mr. Leavitt said.
I doubt I explain to any regular reader here that people need legitimate, legal, medical services, and that if we let medical professionals, and pharmacists in particular, start picking and choosing which ones of those they can decline to provide, fewer people will get the treatments and procedures they need. Which is, of course, the point.
As everyone knows, this is just a workaround for not being able to make abortion illegal (and who is supposed to go to jail if it were, again?). And not being able to do the same for birth control, and this is, of course, to keep the evil of women's sexuality down and Under Control.
What's truly idiotic about this episode is that, as the article notes:
[...] The new president will be able to undo the regulations, and is virtually certain to, given his previous comments on the issue. But undoing them will be a time-consuming process.
They could have passed this earlier, but now is a great time to avoid any political hit; it accomplishes nothing in the longer term but to screw with people's lives, and appease the religious right; it'll get undone, but not before some people will suffer.
The Bush administration goes out as it came in: assholes.
[...] The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.
But women's health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation, saying it will be a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.
And even before the much-publicized rule was passed:
[...] Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) last month introduced a bill to repeal the rule, said: "We will not allow this rule to stand. It threatens the health and well-being of women and the rights of patients across the country." Similar legislation is pending in the House.
Experts predict the issue could escalate sharply if a broad array of therapies becomes available using embryonic stem cells, which are controversial because they are obtained by destroying very early embryos.
The final rule, however, would affect a far broader array of services, protecting workers who do not wish to dispense birth control pills, Plan B emergency contraceptives and other forms of contraception they consider equivalent to abortion, or to inform patients where they might obtain such care. The rule could also protect workers who object to certain types of end-of-life care or to withdrawing care, or even perhaps providing care to unmarried people or gay men and lesbians.
While primarily aimed at doctors and nurses, it offers protection to anyone with a "reasonable" connection to objectionable care -- including ultrasound technicians, nurses aides, secretaries and even janitors who might have clean equipment used in procedures they deem objectionable.
HOW DO THEY DO ON VOIGHT-KAMPFF? Robot pets rated as desirable, with videos.
[...] When he's not ordering people around, Elmo tells lame jokes that even my 18-month-old nieces would find condescending, or he performs some form of stuffed-animal calisthenics to an obnoxious soundtrack. He has a tendency, during this and other routines, to work himself into such a lather that he falls over, whereupon the machine defaults to plaintive (and often unheeded) calls for rescue. Focus groups were almost uniformly unimpressed, though Elmo did develop a touching love-hate relationship with the live dog. I'm also prepared to conclude that of every robot tested, Elmo Live is most likely to fall victim to a voodoo spell, brandish a knife, and go on a killing spree.
Femisapien Humanoid Robot, WowWee Disturbing / Offensive After four focus groups and hours of careful study, I still can't make heads or tails of the Femisapien. According to the manufacturer, she's "an independent robot girl!" Which is, I suppose, a quick way of saying that she's a weirdly flirtatious, 15-inch-high, animated figurine with an assertive plastic bosom and a shapely behind. By pointing her hands in different directions, you can trigger a set of increasingly unsettling behavioral programs. In the "fashion pose" function, she does what looks like voguing. Then there's the function where she blows kisses at you. Or the one where she slow-dances with you. Or the one where she converses with you in a series of girlish moans and giggles. (I wouldn't have been surprised to discover an Easter egg function where she gives you a back rub.) So who's the target audience here? For this kind of money, you could get a harem of inflatable dolls.
Biscuit should be the robot pet for me. He's a soft, realistic, life-size dog that tilts his head and whimpers when you scratch under his ears. Put your hand near his nose, and he'll start sniffing and panting. Rub his back, and he'll wag his tail. He even responds to spoken commands like "Sit," "Lie down," and "Beg." (Serious question: Do live-dog owners really order their pets to beg? That's kind of messed up.) Tell him, "Give me your paw," and he'll raise up a furry foot in the most adorable way. He'd be even more adorable if this and every other movement didn't unfold in excruciating slow motion, accompanied by a loud whirring sound. Biscuit's front paws also have a tendency to get stuck under his body, which makes it look as though both his forelegs are broken. And his incessant and pathetic squeals are guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable before too long. (To be fair, there are many more disturbing robot animals in the world. WowWee, for example, used to produce an animatronic head of a decapitated chimpanzee.)
Beware: that last video is very creepy.
[...] Pleo, an 8-inch-high, automated Camarasaurus, is a pleasure to have around. His movements, slow and steady, are significantly more lifelike than those of his competitors. Like many robot pets, Pleo is programmed to change "moods" over time—but unlike others, his behavioral states are instantly relatable: Sometimes he's curious, wandering across the room of his own accord; at other points he's playful, sleepy, or affectionate. Leave him be, and he's a soothing presence with his deliberate gestures and gentle sounds. Pick him up, and he's cuddly as the White Tiger Cub, despite his rubbery skin. In short, Pleo somehow manages to be neither annoying, disturbing, offensive, pathetic nor scary. I can think of no higher flattery for a robot pet.
Pleo is also $349.
Cute, but $349 might buy more love some other way.
Or maybe not. Anyway, more reviews and videos at the link.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5. But what if it were an electric tortoise lying in the desert?
[...] Air bubbles on double-layered silicon rubber and a built-in speaker simulate the experience of popping bubble wrap and if this wasn't addictive enough, every 100 pops this keychain emits a random sounds such as a doorbell, a dog barking, "sexy voice" or the passing of gas.
So far as I can tell from the accompanying Japanese illustration, it also causes you to emit string from your eyes.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5 pops of that bubble.
[...] Offers easy access to safe drinking water away from home.
Filters a minimum of 700 litres of water.
Kills and removes 99.999% of waterborne bacteria.
Kills and removes 99% of waterborne viruses.
Removes particles down to 15 microns.
Requires no electrical power or spare parts for the life time of the straw.
Easy to mass-distribute in areas where drinking water is contaminated.
One word: Africa.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5; some charity should be offering a way for people to donate to mass distribute these all over the world: India, rural Asia, Peru, Zimbabwe, Congo, poor regions everywhere.
[...] this R2-D2 holds a 1 3/4-gallon aquarium tank in his central compartment, ideal for a small freshwater family of goldfish, gouramis, or tetras. The domed head rotates with any vocal command you issue and he utters his familiar "bleeps" from the Star Wars movies. His radar eye houses the eyepiece to a built-in periscope that provides an intimate view of the aquatic activity below, allowing you to watch your charges swim towards the food you've dropped in from the dome's removable feeding door. Includes filter and overhead LED tank lights that randomly morph between red, blue, and green (lights can be disabled). Includes a two-sided waterproofed cardboard insert depicting scenes from the movie as a background.
WE DIDN'T SAY IT. Editor and writer (particularly on neuroscience) Jonah Lehrersays:
[...] How would you describe the Obama brain?
I think Obama’s real talent is metacognition, which is the ability to think about thinking. I imagine that if you took a scan of his brain, you would see lots of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t experience the primal emotions that come from the amygdala.
For all his rationality, he seems drawn to people with overactive amygdalas, like Rahm Emanuel.
I think he is aware that the brain has a tendency to suppress dissonant ideas and fall into the certainty trap, and he wants to surround himself with people with strong opinions and set up an atmosphere that actively discourages groupthink.
This has been your Amygdala self-referential quote of the day.
[...] While nut allergies are clearly a risk to some children, often the response to this health concern represents “a gross overreaction to the magnitude of the threat,” argues Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, an internal medicine doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School, in a recent column in the British medical journal BMJ.
In the column, Dr. Christakis points out that about 3.3 million Americans are allergic to nuts, and even more — 6.9 million — are allergic to seafood. But of 30 million hospitalizations each year, just 2,000 are due to food allergies, and about 150 people die annually from serious allergic food reactions. That’s the same number of people killed by bee stings and lightning strikes combined.
Mind, that's from every kind of food allergy, not just those from nuts.
About 10,000 children are hospitalized annually with traumatic brain injuries from sports, 2,000 children drown each year, and about 1,300 die in gun accidents, he writes.
Dr. Christakis notes that there is no scientific evidence that nut bans are particularly effective at protecting children. But more important, he argues, is that limiting widespread exposure to nuts can make things worse. The “policy of avoidance” means that fewer children are being exposed to nuts, likely increasing their risk for developing an allergy. A 2008 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology of 10,000 British children found that early exposure to peanuts lowers risk of allergy, rather than increasing it.
150 people die each year from all food allergies combined. 341 died of drowning in a bathtub in 2000; should we ban bathtubs? 1,307 died from falls on steps; ban all steps in favor of ramps? 650 died from "Fall involving bed, chair, other furniture": let's use only cushions?
GEORGE AND LAURA'S LOVELY HOME: NOT A SHOTGUN SHACK. It turns out their beautiful new house is in this lovely neighborhood, whose history David Neiwert describes. Neiwert quotes James Loewen (whose book about sundown towns I wrote about in 2006).
Highland Park is one of Dallas's most exclusive suburbs. President George W. Bush lived there at one time, and Dick Cheney still maintains a home in Highland Park. When it was developed in 1913, restrictive covenants applied to every home. After Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Highland Park sent its few black students to school in Dallas rather than allow them to attend Highland Park schools. Eventually this was overturned on the basis of Texas's desegregation laws, to which an alderman suggested that the city ask homeowners to fire their live-in servants (the parents of those black schoolchildren). In 1961, the city of Dallas stopped accepting children from the suburbs, and at least one white employer paid rent for a Dallas address for her black servant's children.
In 1981, 104 people filed a class-action lawsuit against the town, alleging discrimination and racial profiling by police against African Americans and Hispanics. The police often charged people of color with being "drunk in car", a crime which the plaintiff's lawyers pointed out was not actually on the books. Although the police denied the allegations, the Justice Department became involved, and reached an agreement with the town to halt the practice.
A black couple who purchased a house in Highland Park in 2003 are believed to be the first black homeowners in the city. According to a June 2003 Newsweek web article, the local paper ran a story about the couple on the front page, with the lead "Guess who's coming to dinner? and staying for a while?" The article also referred to the female of the couple as "girl".
The city has a reputation for exclusivity applied any outsiders, not just people of color. Eating lunch and picnicing is forbidden the local parks. The city also required fishing permits to fish in any waters within Highland Park, which violates Texas law as a state fishing permit is good for all public waters in Texas and all of the waters within Highland Park are public. Usage of tennis courts in the public parks is forbidden to Dallas residents.
So, you know, George and Laura should be very comfortable there.
And, naturally, Dick Cheney already owns a house in Highland Park.
David Neiwert, in a typically excellent post, quotes Loewen at greater length about the problematic nature, beyond the obvious, of white-only communities in exporting social problems, as well as writing more himself. All highly worth reading, as Neiwert always is, of course.
Among other important points:
[...] When sundown suburbanites do become homeless, they simply have to leave. Most sundown suburbs do not allow homeless people to spend the night on their streets, and of course they provide no shelters for them. "In suburban jurisdictions," said Nan Roman, of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2000, "there is no sense that these are our people." Community leaders worry that if their suburb provides services, that will only bring more homeless people to their town because no other suburb does. The result, nationally, is that cities provide 49% of all homeless assistance programs, suburbs 19%, and rural areas 32%. Yet suburbs have more people than cities and rural areas combined.
[...] But Mr. Obama, like others, sees political opportunity in the country’s economic distress, and he threw in last week with those who argue that the financial crisis has only made it more imperative to remake the health delivery system — that, in fact, economic recovery depends on it.
The issue had been crystallized, he said, by the plight of American automakers, who assert that health care expenses add anywhere from $1,100 to $1,500 to the price of a car.
“Year after year, our leaders offer up detailed health plans with great fanfare and promise, only to see them fail, derailed by Washington politics and influence peddling,” Mr. Obama said at Thursday’s news conference in Chicago. “This simply cannot continue. The runaway cost of health care is punishing families and businesses across our country.”
Mr. Obama seems to recognize that the recession, with its devastating job losses, affords him the potential to accelerate public opinion. To broaden support for his plan — whatever it ends up being — he insisted last week that systematic improvements in health care would be essential to any lasting economic recovery.
“It’s not something that we can sort of put off because we’re in an emergency,” he said. “This is part of the emergency.”
Mr. Obama said his health plan would be “intimately woven into” his administration’s economic blueprint. And he directly confronted those who might ask how the country could afford a major expansion of health coverage in times of shrinking revenues and burgeoning deficits. “I ask a different question,” Mr. Obama said. “I ask how can we afford not to?”
BECAUSE YOU'VE NEVER HAD A SOFTWARE ERROR. Your Amygdala reads another optimistic article, for the umpteenth time in the last couple of decades, about our being on the verge -- no, really, this time! -- of intelligent agent software.
John Markoff is hardly unaware of the history:
[...] With the arrival of personal computing in the 1980s, the idea took the form of highly choreographed “vision” statements from many Silicon Valley companies. The most memorable was the Knowledge Navigator video, by John Sculley, then chief executive of Apple, in which an interactive assistant on a video display, clad in a bow tie, does research for a college professor and nags him to return his mother’s phone call.
But efforts to build useful computerized assistants have consistently ended in failure, including some of the Valley’s largest “craters” — ambitious undertakings ending as spectacular flameouts. The failures include General Magic, originally backed by Mr. Sculley, E-speak by Hewlett-Packard and Hailstorm by Microsoft.
But this time will be different!
[...] SRI International, a research group in Menlo Park, Calif., is approaching the end of a multiyear project called CALO, which stands for cognitive assistant that learns and organizes. CALO is financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Pentagon and is one of the largest artificial-intelligence projects ever. Some public demonstrations have been given, but CALO is being developed largely out of the public eye because it is intended for the military.
And, hey, if it's for the military, it's gotta work, right? Imagine the possibilities!
[...] He promises to bring together all of the discrete online services needed for business travel that are now separate — for starters, travel, airport parking, car services, dining reservations, entertainment tickets, package delivery and video conferences.
Imagine you are on a business trip and your computer discovers that your flight will be late. It automatically reschedules your dinner in New York, informs your three guests of the change and tells you they’ve been notified.
And what I imagine is the software reading the wrong flight data, and rescheduling your meeting anyway! Imagine what fun that will be!
And you thought a dancing paper clip was annoying.
But this time will be different.
[...] Thomas D. Garvey, an artificial-intelligence researcher at SRI, said CALO passed an important milestone last week when it was used in a United States Army test of a command and control system at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. CALO watches users work with computer systems and then automates routine tasks, he said. With CALO doing mundane work, he said, Army officers can focus on more important matters.
I couldn't be more thrilled and confident to read this.
But John Markoff has an utterly original closing to his article!
Have Mr. Grady or CALO or Siri cracked the code in the half-decade-long quest for a software personal assistant? Ordinary computer users will soon have a chance to find out.
YOU COULDN'T GET AWAY WITH THIS IN A NOVEL unless it was very bad. My favorite detail from this great Michael Isikoff story about the first whistleblower on The Program (the NSA surveillance program that turns out to have been code-named -- we finally find out! -- "Stellar Wind"), Oliver Tamm:
[...] Not long afterward, Tamm says, he started getting phone calls at his office from Jason Lawless, the hard-charging FBI agent in charge of the case.
Yes, that's right, the guy in charge of finding out who blew the whistle on the most egregious and illegal violation of U.S. intelligence law since the days of the CIA "family jewels" and COINTELPRO was Special Agent Lawless.
It's almost enough to make one believe there is a God.
(Personally, I spell my name "Danger.")
Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5 for extraordinary details, on Tamm, who couldn't possibly have a deeper history of support for the FBI and the U.S. justice system, and more details finally coming out on The Program.
Hilzoy, I see, makes the right point about whistle-blowing here.
THAT WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR. The spirit of peace and charity reigns. Not so much:
A Kansas-based church that has blamed deaths in Iraq on U.S. tolerance of homosexuality has asked Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's office to approve a "Santa Claus will take you to Hell" message to display among other religious statements in the state capitol's third-floor hallway.
Yes, it's that charmer, Fred Phelps, who epitomizes religion-as-hatred.
And there's no way around the legitimacy of these requests, absent government endorsement of a specific religion, if governmental officials want to post a given religions message:
The Westboro Baptist Church's message would be near a Nativity set, three signs mocking atheism, and an atheist sign that celebrates the winter solstice, while also taking a shot at religion as "myth and superstition" that enslaves minds, all in the state Capitol's third-floor hallway.
You may have already read about that. But there's more!
The Westboro request is under consideration by the state Department of General Administration, which also has a request for a display depicting "The Spaghetti Monster" and "a Christian woman in Bellevue who wants to erect a sign offering blessings on all people."
"Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" is a parody of the Kansas education-board decision to teach "intelligent design" as an alternative to Darwinist evolutionary concepts in biology classes.
Also under consideration is a request for a "Festivus" pole, a reference to the mock holiday "Festivus for the Rest of Us" popularized by the "Seinfeld" sitcom in the late 1990s.
Naturally, either you have to grant no requests, or you have to grant every request that has at least a few people behind it.
And how charming is Fred Phelps?
[...] According to Spokesman-Review reporter Rich Roesler, the first part of Westboro's proposed message:
"You'd better watch out, get ready to cry, You'd better go hide, I'm telling you why 'cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell. He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet, but when you stand before your God He won't help you take the heat. So get this fact straight: you're feeling God's hate, Santa's to blame for the economy's fate, Santa Claus will take you to hell."
One hopes that sooner or later, people will get the idea that asking for governmental display of their idiosyncratic beliefs is not a good idea. It's not as if anyone will stop them from displaying what they want on their own property. (Other than perhaps neighborhood associations, which is another kettle of petty group stupidity.)
DEMOCRACY, SEXY, WHISKEY. Sweets and flowers weren't Bush's welcome on his last visit to Iraq.
[...] But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by a man, apparently a journalist, who leaped to his feet and threw one shoe at the president, who ducked and narrowly missed being struck. Chaos ensued. He threw a second shoe, which also narrowly missed Mr. Bush. The man was roughly 12 feet from the lecturn in the center of two rows ofchairs, about two feet from a pool of reporters. A scrum of security agents descended on the man and wrestled him, first to the floor and then out of the ornate room where the news conference was taking place.
The president was uninjured and brushed off the incident. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly. An Iraqi accompanying the pool of reporters, colleague said the man had shouted, “This is a farewell kiss, dog.”
On the looking up side, he didn't need cover of the Dark Side this time:
[...] Bush’s arrival here during daylight hours had been one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.
[...] At the end of his narrative, Mr. Bowen chooses a line from “Great Expectations” by Dickens as the epitaph of the American-led attempt to rebuild Iraq: “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.”
Heck of a job, Bushie.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5 for the second. I'm sure the Iraq journalist was merely calling Bush "dawg" in the friendliest of ways. The gift of shoes was touching, really.
ADDENDUM, 5:10 p.m.: Video of the shoe-throwing here, although it took a little while to load on my browser. I have to commend Bush on his ducking skills. His comments afterwards, of course, are archetypally banal and blind: "It's one way for people to draw attention. [...] It's like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers."
Yes, it's almost as if someone were protesting against you. There's no meaning to that sort of thing.
ADDENDUM, 8:05 p.m.: Here's a video, from a different angle, of the shoe assault:
NIKTO. The breadth and depth of the trashing reviews of the remake of Day The Earth Stood Still is positively awesome.
To start with some of the smaller-name reviewers (but the big guns are equally dumbstruck!): Tri-City Herald:
[...] Not only have they sacrilegiously done a redo of what many consider perfection, but the producers also have arranged an 186,000-mile per second beaming of the flick into space. It is aimed at Alpha Centauri. Inhabitants in the three-star cluster will be able to see it sometime in 2012.
How smart can it be to broadcast this into space? A real Klaatu could be out there monitoring us. A movie this bad could tip our fate scale in the negative direction.
If you’re looking for chuckles this holiday season, bypass the miserably unfunny “Four Christmases” and go where the real comedy is — “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a clumsy, moronic remake of Robert Wise’s brilliant 1951 classic about an alien invader trying to save the human race from its own self-destructive impulses. [...] The new “Day” can’t be bothered to include the thought-provoking dialogue of the original, choosing instead to bury the audience with special effects that are visually impressive but no substitute for an actual script. And what words do remain are so exquisitely awful that they provide some of the season’s biggest laughs. [...] Discussing the acting in “Earth” is something of an exercise in pointlessness — Reeves does a lot of wooden staring while speaking in a monotone, so at least he’s working within his skill set.
[...] In the early stages of this very, very bad film, Reeves does manage to be the one arresting thing on show, a tight-lipped and sinister emissary who has borrowed human DNA and emits a woozy aura of body-snatcher threat. "We've decided to sedate him," says the US Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates, modelling this year's neocon winter range, and Sarah Palin's hair), but sedate our leading man any further and he'd be unconscious, surely. [...] Yes, the movie is instantly silly, but you hold out hope it might at least fall into the good-bad category of The Day After Tomorrow – global meltdown with some kick-ass special effects. Unfortunately, every such effect at Derrickson's disposal is just terrible [...] but the eschewal of all internal logic starts to feel like an insult, the cinematography is dismal, and the cocktail of lazy CGI and po-faced, sub-Al-Gore environment lecture leaves you light-headed with tedium.
[...] No, it’s a giant, interstellar turkey that’s flapped its way weakly across the cosmos, Keanu Reeves strapped to its back, to provide solid, incontrovertible, squawking proof that if a classic ain’t broke... Hollywood will do its darndest to smash it to pieces anyway. [...] Connelly does what she can with a plot that merely requires her to raise her eyebrows on cue, while Reeves provides compelling evidence that intelligent life really doesn’t exist beyond our own planet – his dead fish eyes and monosyllabic drawl lulling you to coma levels of boredom.
Add to that some unimpressive CGI and a bizarrely abrupt ending and you have the day your buttocks went to sleep, your brain melted and your will to live evaporated.
[...] Unfortunately, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is a jumble of spare parts and leftover dialogue, as if it had been assembled out of unused bits of every movie where an unknown whatzit threatens our way of life and the government goes into full institutional pants-crapping panic mode. [...] I saw this movie yesterday (as I write this) and I can barely remember it. It definitely has Reeves in it, though, as the alien Klaatu, who arrives in Central Park encased in a mold of icky space-gelatin and faints into the arms of super-skinny biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), who's got on sexy but sensible hip-hugger flares under her containment suit. [...] Derrickson's previous directing efforts have included "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "Hellraiser: Inferno," and there's nothing in those mid-level movies or this much larger one to indicate that he has any particular aptitude for the craft. (He's apparently now making a film based on "Paradise Lost" -- yes, the epic poem by Milton -- and, really, what can you say about that beyond expressing abject and total horror?) Still, it's hard to hold Derrickson fully responsible when the screenplay is so hackneyed and dunderheaded. I half suspect that Scarpa's script is hackneyed and dunderheaded on purpose, as if trying to re-create the stark and seemingly innocent Earth-vs.-Martians, good-vs.-evil dichotomy of 1950s science fiction. If so, it doesn't work. [...] The fictional president and vice president of this movie are never seen; they've been chained up and shipped away to separate faraway bunkers, leaving Defense Secretary Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates) behind the desk. Jackson dresses like Madeleine Albright but thinks like Don Rumsfeld, and the only reason she doesn't have Klaatu subcontracted out to Egyptian or Bulgarian torturers is because he's a superpowerful alien who can bring down helicopters with his hands, raise New Jersey state troopers from the dead and extract tuna-salad sandwiches from train-station vending machines without paying. [...] Like Helen and all the other scientific and military advisors surrounding her throne, Jackson suffers from a syndrome common in these kinds of epic disaster films but nearly absent from the general population: She's apparently never seen this kind of movie and doesn't know how the story goes. She's amazed to learn that shooting Sidewinder missiles at Klaatu or at his ginormous robot defender, who are manifestly the products of a superior civilization, does no good at all and even makes matters worse. Furthermore, as dumb as human beings may be, I don't even buy this: Maybe when aliens land on the Great Lawn we'll just start randomly heaving military hardware at them, but I'd like to believe that any plausible human leadership would adopt a more judicious approach.
The Christmas turkey has landed, in the form of 20th Century Fox's worst blockbuster ever. [...] Exposing this overgrown weakling to honest criticism feels as cruel as knocking away Tiny Tim's crutch and giving the boy a comprehensive kicking. [...] Keanu Reeves delivers the year's most inadequate performance as Klaatu, a thunderously boring, inadequately briefed, intellectually minuscule alien who arrives on Earth to warn that humans are going to destroy the planet if we don't change our ways. Like now, man. [...] The other big hoot is when Jennifer Connelly looks into Keanu's dull, lifeless eyes and inquires: 'Any signs of neural activity?'
The answer, not for the first time in Keanu's career, is 'No'. [...] This is a disaster movie, in more senses than one. Verdict: The Day The Remake Died From Dumbness. Rating: Turkey.
Keanu Reeves, who was The One in "The Matrix," takes on another messianic role in Scott Derrickson's cluttered, pointless remake of Robert Wise's 1951 "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It's a part he might have played in his sleep, and he almost does. [...] Jon Hamm, the charismatic star of AMC's "Mad Men," plays a character so poorly defined that he seems to have been written out of the movie while it was shooting. [...] Casting Reeves as Klaatu (replacing the wonderfully eerie Michael Rennie in the original) may also have been a joke, just not quite as private. Reeves has become so inscrutable he's funny, especially when the script requires that Klaatu go through a change of mind. This leads to a series of scenes so sappy and awkward that no one seems to believe what they're saying. The movie stumbles to an ending that's more whimper than bang.
[...] "Everything will be explained," a government goon tells Jennifer Connelly's exobiologist, Dr. Helen Benson, in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." A space ship has landed and Helen is urgently needed to make nice with the occupants. What's never explained is why anyone would do such a dumb remake of Robert Wise's 1951 sci-fi classic [....]
[...] Actually, a good portion of this sci-fi disaster movie is unintentionally comical. And the parts that aren't funny are just plain dull. [...] The spaceship resembles a giant Christmas ornament [...] Never fully engaging us, The Day the Earth Stood Still has more plot holes than a hunk of Swiss cheese. And the story is about as fresh as a stale cracker.
[...] Who goes to a sci-fi film to be reminded about conservation? I get enough of that from my recycling bin, which, by the way, is far more visually exciting than "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as well as more pleasing to the ear.
No, I don't know who 7(M) Pictures is, but although uncommonly positive, I had to quote this:
[...] The best part of this movie is Keanu Reeves. He plays an alien who doesn’t talk much and shows no emotion. I really think he has found his perfect role. [...] Still, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” isn’t an entire waste of time. I’m sure the filmmakers figured they were making a movie that would really make people think, but I implore you to not think at all when watching this film. The logic is terrible. The moral compass is out of whack. And the general flow of the story and actions of the characters are sometimes downright silly.
Arguably the worst reconstitution of a '50s sci-fi classic since the ghastly Godzilla remake — that 1998 travesty made by boneheads who forgot the Original Gangsta Lizard can, like, breathe fire — The Day the Earth Stood Still is a stunningly misconceived folly that is bearable only for as long as it remains a fair-to-middling chase movie. During its final act, alas, it repeatedly sacrifices narrative logic for CGI-spawned spectacle, all the while building toward an ending that aims for the ambiguity of 2001, but misses by several light years. [...] Rennie underacted the part to the point of sporadic stasis, but Reeves makes him look in retrospect like an over-caffeinated show-off. [...] So it’s not really Reeves’ fault that this updated remake — in which Klaatu has zero tolerance for global warming, not nuclear proliferation — is about as satisfying as a plate of lukewarm leftovers. [...] After that, the remake doesn’t conclude, it merely stops.
At which point, audiences can be forgiven for shouting rude remarks at the screen.
[...] This is the kind of movie in which, when they arrive, the feds basically tell Helen to leave her young stepson (Jaden Smith, son of Will) at home; he'll be fine, except for maybe that huge hurtling object.
It's also the kind of movie where a fellow scientist ("Mad Men's" Jon Hamm) says, "I'll have to crash-brief you," and later tells the secretary of defense (Kathy Bates) that a cosmos traveler is "the most important discovery in the history of mankind!" [...] The stone-faced silliness in this new "TDTESS" at first seems like an homage to old-fashioned '50s watch-the-skies movies, until it becomes clear it's just newfangled bad filmmaking. Early on, there's some jumpy paranoia, though once Reeves, Connelly, Hamm and Bates move their lips, things go south. [...] The film's major action sequences are never exciting, and even the now-requisite destruction of New York feels lazy. (No one even comments on half the city being eaten by space locusts. Maybe they're mulling that news report early on that says, "Financial markets react to alien invasion.")
And closing out with a few of the bigger name critics, Richard Schickel in Time:
[...] Unfortunately, the new director is a dope named Scott Derrickson, who has teamed with a morally deaf screenwriter named David Scarpa, and they have made what must be the worst major release in what may be the most disastrous year in recent Hollywood history.
Most basically, these aliens are not here to give us a last peaceful warning. Their trigger fingers are beyond itchy and they launch a major assault on the world's capitals, a concatenation of been-there, done-that special effects that first deadens the senses and then, mercifully, induces narcolepsy. The aliens don't really give a chance to respond to their warnings. As a matter of fact, since their alternative to our threatening behavior appears to be even more menacing — it consists of swarms of metallic insects gnawing nastily away at any human flesh in its path — it makes as much sense to resist the invaders as it does to heed them. You couldn't possibly be any worse off. [...] The guy was never a ton of fun, but formerly he was at least a figure of moral weight and — especially rare in popular entertainments — a believably brainy one, a kind of public intellectual before that egregious term was invented. Now he's pretty much a drip.
I could go on — pseudo-scientific investigations of Klaatu that produce more glop than useful information, a failure even to reference the earlier film's famous catch phrase ("Klaatu Barada Nickto," which essentially means, "Cool it, Gort" and which was on every 12-year-old's lips a little more than a half century ago), a cross-species romance between Klaatu and an earth woman (Jennifer Connelly) that was once rather touching and now registers somewhere between fatuous and nonexistent. But why bother? Suffice it to say that these morons have, quite simply, turned The Day the Earth Stood Still on its head and what's falling out of its pockets in that upended state is a stream of junk.
[...] But wait, Helen pleads. We can change! To provide evidence of this transformative potential she takes Klaatu to see her mentor, Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese), a scientist who listens to Bach and was awarded a Nobel Prize for “altruistic biology.” Apparently this is the Swedish Academy’s euphemism for pimping: the good doctor’s advice to Helen about how to approach Klaatu is to “persuade him not with your reason, but with yourself.”
Still, any movie that awards a former Monty Python cast member a Nobel Prize in anything cannot be all bad. And “The Day the Earth Stood Still” could be worse. Its scenario and many of its scenes feel ripped off rather than freshly imagined — why do aliens always seem to end up in New Jersey?
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" need not have taken its title so seriously that the plot stands still along with it. [...] The message of the 2008 version is that we should have voted for Al Gore. This didn't require Klaatu and Gort. That's what I'm here for. Actually, Klaatu is non-partisan and doesn't name names, but his message is clear: Planets capable of sustaining life are so rare that the aliens cannot allow us to destroy life on this one. So they'll have to kill us. [...] That's no big deal, because Klaatu looks on everything dispassionately. Maybe he has no passions. He becomes the first co-star in movie history to elude falling in love with Jennifer Connelly. Keanu Reeves is often low-key in his roles, but in this movie, his piano has no keys at all. He is so solemn, detached and uninvolved he makes Mr. Spock look like Hunter S. Thompson at closing time.
On the bright side, this movie seems to have almost followed through on the intent of the origional movie: it brought together some 80% of the Earth's movie critics. Too bad it was to hate the film; as higher purposes go, that'll have to do.
Read The Rest Scale: what, this wasn't enough for you?
Oh, and nobody ever says "Gort, Klaatu barado nikto." Really.
Twentieth Century Fox makes history by transmitting the first motion picture in to deep space, making The Day the Earth Stood Still the world's first galactic motion picture release. The first deliberate deep space transmission of this highly anticipated science fiction thriller will begin this Friday, December 12, 2008, to coincide with the film's opening day on Planet Earth. If any civilizations are currently orbiting Alpha Centauri, they will be able to receive and view the film approximately four years from now in the year 2012.
In a time when global movie launches are now commonplace, Fox is raising the bar by spearheading, with Deep Space Communications Network located at Cape Canaveral, the ultimate in "wide release" platforms.
Now they really might come and destroy us.
ADDENDUM, 12/15/08, 7 p.m.: I should have pointed out earlier that mocking "biological altruism" = stoopid.
[...] This is an area in which science fiction, for all its vaunted imagination, is traditionally quite conservative. With some notable exceptions, we tend to assume that the forms life can take are neatly divided into “intelligent species” and “everyone else,” and we are snugly in the former category, and all intelligent species are roughly equally intelligent and it’s just a matter of time before we get our own seat in the Galactic Parliament.
Which is a lot of horsepuckey.
ADDENDUM, 12/23/08, 5:18 p.m.: Gary Westfahl, one of the most perceptive writers on science fiction films, starts off:
Well. If you have never seen the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), if you value neat-o special effects above all other aspects of the cinematic experience, and if you don't object to a film delivering a simplistic environmental message with all the subtlety of a Captain Planet cartoon, then you just might enjoy this addled update of Robert Wise's classic film. Alas, I fall into none of these categories, and therefore can value this film only for its unintended but interesting commentary on the ways that human society, and science fiction, have changed in the last fifty years.
In this film, however, I think Reeves achieves a new all-time low.