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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.

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"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 their teachers."
-- Socrates

"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?"
-- Cicero

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

"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).

"Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it."
-- Lecture IX, John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.”
-- John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-- James Madison

"Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others."
-- Napolean I of France -- Napoleon I of France

"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)

"American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism."
-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, (1920)

"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."
-- Batman


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 cute panda. Don't you love pandas?

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Contents © 2001-2013 All rights reserved. Gary Farber. (The contents of e-mails to this email address of Gary Farber are subject to the possibility of being posted.)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world

[Blogroll now far below the sea line! Dive, dive, dive!]

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Gary Farber! Jeez, the guy is practically a blogging legend, and I'm always surprised at the breadth of what he writes about.
-- PZ Meyers, Pharyngula

...Darn: I saw that Gary had commented on this thread, and thought: oh. my. god. Perfect storm. Unstoppable cannonball, immovable object. -- Hilzoy

...I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. -- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula

...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

‎"Gary Farber is a gentleman, a scholar and one of the gems of the blogosphere." -- Steve Hynd,

"Well argued, Gary. I hadn't seen anything that went into as much detail as I found in your blog." -- Gareth Porter

Gary Farber is your one-man internet as always, with posts on every article there is.
-- Fafnir

Guessing that Gary is ignorant of anything that has ever been written down is, in my experience, unwise.
Just saying.

-- Hilzoy

Gary Farber gets it right....
-- James Joyner, Outside The Beltway

Once again, an amazing and illuminating post.
-- Michael Bérubé, Crooked Timber

I read Amygdala...with regularity, as do all sensible websurfers.
-- Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings

Okay, he is annoying, but he still posts a lot of good stuff.
-- Avedon Carol, The Sideshow

Amygdala - So much stuff it reminds Unqualified Offerings that UO sometimes thinks of Gary Farber as "the liberal Instapundit."
-- Jim Henley

...the thoughtful and highly intelligent Gary Farber... My first reaction was that I definitely need to appease Gary Farber of Amygdala, one of the geniuses of our age.
-- Brad deLong

Gary is a perceptive, intelligent, nice guy. Some of the stuff he comes up with is insightful, witty, and stimulating. And sometimes he manages to make me groan.
-- Charlie Stross

Gary Farber is a straight shooter.
-- John Cole, Balloon Juice

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.
-- Ogged

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.

One of my favorites....
-- Matt Welch

-- Virginia Postrel

Amygdala continues to have smart commentary on an incredible diversity of interesting links....
-- Judith Weiss

Amygdala has more interesting obscure links to more fascinating stuff that any other blog I read.
-- Judith Weiss, Kesher Talk

Gary's stuff is always good.
-- Meryl Yourish

...the level-headed Amygdala blog....
-- Geitner Simmons

The only trouble with reading Amygdala is that it makes me feel like such a slacker. That Man Farber's a linking, posting, commenting machine, I tell you!
-- John Robinson, Sore Eyes

...the all-knowing Gary Farber....
-- Edward Winkleman, Obsidian Wings

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


Gary is certainly a non-idiotarian 'liberal'...
-- Perry deHaviland

Recommended for the discerning reader.
-- Tim Blair

Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog.
-- Dr. Frank

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

You nailed it... nice job."
-- James Lileks

Gary Farber is a principled liberal....
-- Bill Quick, The Daily Pundit

December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2013

Blogroll is Always In Progress:

Roger Ailes
Alas, A Blog
The American Street
The Aristocrats
Avedon Carol
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Lindsay Beyerstein
The Big Con
CantBlogTooBusy The Center for American Progress
Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Doghouse Riley
Kevin Drum
Fables of the Reconstruction
Gall and Gumption
Gin and Tacos
House of Substance
The Hunting of the Snark
If I Ran The Zoo
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Lotus: Surviving a Dark Time
Matters of Little Significance
Nancy Nall
Charlie Stross bastard.logic
Daniel Larison
American Conservative
American Footprints
Andrew Sullivan
Angry Bear
Balloon Juice
Beautiful Horizons
Bitch Ph.D.
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cunning Realist
Daily Kos
Debate Link
Democracy Arsenal
Edge of the American West
Ezra Klein
Glenn Greenwald 13th Floor
Hit & Run
Juan Cole
Kevin Drum
Lawyers, Guns and Money
List Project (Helping Iraqis who worked with us get out)
Marc Lynch
Mark Kleiman
Katha Pollit
Market Square
Matthew Yglesias
Megan McArdle
Metro Green
Pam's House Blend
Paul Krugman
Philosophy, et cetera
Radley Balko
Sadly, No!
Southern Appeal
Stephen Walt
Steve Clemons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Taking It Outside
Talking Points Memo
The Poor Man
The Progressive Realist
The Sideshow
U.S. Intellectual History
Unqualified Offerings
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly
William Easterly
Newsrack Blog
Ortho Bob
The Poor Man
Prog Gold
Prose Before Hos
Ted Rall
The Raw Story
Elayne Riggs
Sadly, No!
Texas Liberal
Think Progress
3 Weird Sisters
Tristram Shandy
Washington Monthly
Ian Welsh
James Wolcott
World o' Crap
Matthew Yglesias
Buzz Machine
Daniel Larison
Rightwing Film Geek About Last Night
can we all just agree
Comics Curmudgeon
Dum Luk's
Glenn Kenny
Hoarder Museum Juanita Jean
Lance Mannion (Help Lance!
Last Words of the Executed
The Phil Nugent Experience
Postcards from Hell's Kitchen
Vanishing New York
a lovely promise
a web undone
alt hippo
american street
city of brass
danger west
fierce urgency of now
get fisa right
great concavity
happening here
impeach them!
kathryn cramer
notes from the basement
talking dog
uncertain principles
unqualified offerings
what do i know
crooked timber emptywheel
ezra klein
The F-Word
glenn greenwald
schneier on security
ta-nehisi coates
talking points memo
tiny revolution
Roz Kaveney
Dave Ettlin
Henry Jenkins' Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Kathryn Cramer
Monkeys In My Pants
Pagan Prattle
As I Please
Ken MacLeod
Arthur Hlavaty
Kevin Maroney
MK Kare
Jack Heneghan
Dave Langford
Onyx Lynx Atrios
Rittenhouse Review
Public Nuisance
Scoobie Davis
Nathan Newman
Echidne Of The Snakes
First Draft
Rising Hegemon
Cab Drollery (Help Diane!
Southern Beale
The Kenosha Kid
Culture of Truth
Talk Left
Black Ag=Q< Report
Drug WarRant
Nieman Watchdog
Open Left
Meet the Bloggers
Dispatch from the Trenches
Crooks and Liars
Campaign for America's Future
Iraq Today
Daily Kos
Lefty Directory
News Hounds
The Brad Blog
Informed Comment
UN Dispatch
War and Piece
Glenn Greenwald
Schneier on Security
Jim Henley
Arthur Silber
Julian Sanchez
The Agitator
Balloon Juice
Wendy McElroy
Whoviating (LarryE)
Scott Horton
Tennessee Guerilla Women
Looking Glass
Charles Kuffner
Brad DeLong
Busy, Busy, Busy
Oliver Willis
The Carpetbagger Report Shakesville
Down With Tyranny
Professor B
Monkey Media Report
The Grumpy Forester
Ian Welsh
Pacific Views
Booman Tribune
Matthew Yglesias
The American Street
Media Bloodhound
Liz Henry's Composite
The Heretik
Arizona Eclectic
Sisyphus Shrugged
Interesting Times
Talking Dog
Liberal Desert
Under the Lobsterscope
Seeing The Forest
Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist
King of Zembla
Mark Kleiman
Liquid List
Elayne Riggs
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Fanatical Apathy
Blue Gal
Mark Evanier
Roger Ailes
Suburban Guerrilla (Help Susie with money!)
The Mahablog
Brilliant at Breakfast
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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.

Friday, October 31, 2003
TALES OF THE CIVIL WAR: Overheard on the bus:
I know it's cool now. But I moved there in the Fifties, and I was the first out-of-stater to be there. Really. I kept getting asked "... and what part of Texas are you from?" And I'd say I wasn't from Texas. And they'd stare at me.

And then I'd say I'd moved here from Virginia, and they'd call me a Yankee.

Yeah, it's cool now. I used to hate Austin, and then it was great, so I had to move.

10/31/2003 09:36:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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We're all here to do what we're all here to do. I'm interested in one thing, Neo: the future.

And believe me, I know. The only way to get there is together.

- The Oracle
If there's one supreme thing I can do, it's read science fiction and see where it's going. I've earned a living doing that.

This thing ends in a partnership of humans and machines. Anyone want to bet differently? (November 5th, by the way, happens to be my birthday; it's often election day; who would imagine?)

10/31/2003 06:41:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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BLOG DESIGN. If Peter Maass paid anyone over fifty dollars to redo his site, he was ripped off.

10/31/2003 11:35:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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EYES WIDE. When John Derbyshire met Bruce Lee. And played a thug in a Bruce Lee movie.

Karate chop to.... ah, I'll skip the usual cheap jokes and politics. Life is more than that. This is actually damned interesting, lively, funny, and charming.

Read The Rest Scale: 4.50 out of 5.

10/31/2003 11:08:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Thursday, October 30, 2003
Private contractors that received billions in reconstruction contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan contributed significantly to President Bush's election campaign and stocked their staffs and governing boards with well-connected former federal officials, according to a report released today by a watchdog group.

The Center for Public Integrity matched companies with political donations to conclude that dozens of companies that won contracts had contributed to national political campaigns, with President Bush receiving more money than any other candidate since 1990--about $500,000.

The winners of the top 10 contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed about $1 million a year to national political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1990, according to the group, which studies the links between money and politics.

Just coincidence, citizens. We can trust President Harding to run an honest, uncorrupt, Administration! Vice-President Agnew will see to it!

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/30/2003 06:12:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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HOW TO SAVE MONEY AND INFLUENCE IRAQIS: Do it the 101st Airborne way! Mark Kleiman has the story. On a blog, anyway; he quotes a NBC news story.
TIBBLES: With many buildings in Iraq falling apart, fixing Sinjar was vital. But how? Army engineers determined that if contracted out, it would cost $23 million and take up to a year to rebuild this plant and get it up and running again. The 101st didn't have the money or the patience to wait that long.

Brigadier General FRANK HELMICK (United States Army 101st Airborne Division): We would love to have a Mercedes Benz or a--a Cadillac, but what we need right now is adequacy, adequacy for the Iraqi people.

TIBBLES: So instead of spending millions on a contract, the 101st took just $10,000 of Saddam Hussein's frozen assets and gave it to the plant managers. Soldiers watched in amazement as the Iraqis cannibalized old machines for parts, fashioned new ones and got the factory running again.

Unidentified Man: The future is wide for us.

TIBBLES: Sinjar now churns out 900 tons of concrete a day, just 25 percent of capacity, but a big first step, and generating $20,000 a day in profit. The 101st is using the same strategy throughout the north, from a sulfur plant and water pumping station to this derelict asphalt factory that even some Americans thought was hopeless.

As Mark points out:
The story doesn't even hint that there might be something wrong with a bid of $23 million to do a job that can be done somewhat less thoroughly for $10,000. (Anyone who suspects that the fact that NBC is owned by GE, which is a huge defense contractor, might have something to do with that omission is a lunatic left-wing conspiracy theorist.)
Read The Rest Scale: 4.5 out of 5.

10/30/2003 05:59:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE SOUND OF THE BIG BANG has now been much written about. My old pal, sf editor Kathryn Cramer, has all the links on this research by her father, physicist and science fiction writer John Cramer, an acquaintance of mine in my Seattle days (1978-86). Here is the New Scientist story.

Here is the sound. (Turn up your volume; it's neither loud nor a bang.)

Read The Rest to find out about hearing the sound of the origin of the universe. You know, small stuff.

10/30/2003 05:22:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WE CAN SMILE. Avedon also quotes Bill Clinton:
And the other thing I think is, we can smile when we say that. I don't want our side ever to treat the Republicans with the sort of personal animosity and contempt with which Hillary and I and Al were treated. I don't like that, I don't believe that, I don't think that's necessary. But we got to argue. And we got to fight hard. Otherwise they'll run right over us like they did in 2002.
Some idea, eh?

Read The Rest Scale: 1 out of 5.

10/30/2003 02:49:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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GEE, MAYBE I SHOULD BUY SOME SHARES. You should, shouldn't you?

Although links to me, and comments, are even more appreciated. (You can start with the post two down, he said helpfully.)

10/30/2003 02:17:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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CRAP. Harry Stubbs, aka "Hal Clement," writer of classic sf and hell of a nice guy, has died. (Via Leslie Turek.)

10/30/2003 01:43:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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A CORRESPONDENT IN EAST HAM COMMENTS. Avedon Carol gave near running commentary on several of my recent posts.

I've apparently moved up in my Political Comprehension from "not getting it" to "close." In gratitude, an attempt at a clarifying answer to this:

I still can't understand how he can continue to think the invasion of Iraq was a good thing. It all seems pretty simple to me: It was unjustifiable to invade without even letting the weapons inspections be completed. And it was stupid to destabilize the only secular country in that group. Everything that's happened is pretty much what I expected to happen given the lack of commitment this administration was showing. Wanting to win a war is not a good enough reason to start one, and that was clearly their biggest reason for doing it, along with some greed and a little bit of personal pique, which are just more lousy reasons. A guy who brags about how he is not into "nation building" and then claims he's going to do it anyway is obviously a guy who doesn't understand what it's for or what it is or how to go about it. And every step of the way, this administration has demonstrated that. They were ill-prepared in Afghanistan and already creating a diplomatic nightmare worldwide, and people trusted them over Iraq? Why?
To begin with the last: of course, there is no textual justification for even remotely deducing that I've "trusted" the Bush Administration over Iraq. It's completely contradicted by every post I've ever written on the topic, in which I've consistently pointed out how I utterly distrust and despise the Administration.

I have, further, explained over and over and over again, each major time I've addressed my rather tentative and cautious opinions about the wisdom of war or not, that any and all support I've hesitantly given towards the war has been in spite of the Administration, not because of them, and -- this is crucial -- that I separate the wisdom of the war decision from issues regarding the Administration.

That's it's possible to do that latter may be grounds for philosophical disagreement between two camps. I imagine it is. I can see the outlines of the arguments saying why you can't, or shouldn't, do that.

But I don't agree.

And neither do any of the many people I've found myself in political alignment with: the Paul Bermans, and Michael Walzers, and Leon Wieseltiers, none of whom can remotely be considered either Bush supporters or from the right.

In fact, I think one of the things most destructive to useful debate about the wisdom or lack of it regarding fighting the late war, and continuing to have destructive effects upon the debate as to what policy should be towards Iraqi, today, is the inability of the majority of people engaged in discussion to separate out that topic from their partisan stances as being pro or anti Bush.

This seems to be a concept that many from certain corners of the left have trouble understanding: that one can see liberal pro-intervention arguments while still despising the Bushites. That there can be genuine differences of opinion on the left on this (and various other) subject(s).

So I hope we can discard the canard that I, and people of my ilk, "trust the administration." It would be nice if folks from your corner of the left would so so, as it ain't true. Out with your Bush cooties!

Generally speaking, I'm not fully prepared to "defend the invasion as a good thing." It, frankly, remains to be seen. It can only be justified by ultimate results, and we won't see that for, at the earliest, a year, and maybe not for as much as five or ten years. So I really don't know if it will prove to have been justified, or a terrible, horrible, tragic mistake.

What I'm prepared to defend is the idea that it remains to be seen which way it will go. I disagree with anyone sure they know right now. I disagree with anyone who asserts that "the Iraq situation is proving to be a raging success!" and I disagree with anyone who asserts that "the Iraq situation is obviously a complete failure!" Right now.

We don't know. I don't know. You don't know. No one knows.

And I don't believe anyone who claims they know, and such claims lessen my respect for the judgment of the claimer.

Anyone who has twenty-six keys on a keyboard to rub together can cherry-pick "signs" that it-is-getting-better/it-is-hopelessly-falling apart.

This is, he said impatiently, ludicrous. Anecdotes aren't trends, and trends aren't conclusions.

What I am prepared to defend:

I'm prepared to defend the idea that there were justifiable arguments for the invasion, based upon noble ideas.

I'm not talking about the Bush ideas, whatever they may be. I'm talking about my ideas and arguments. And, yes, Tom Friedman's ideas.

I'm prepared to defend the idea that there was and is good cause for hope that the invasion of Iraq will turn out far and away for the best.

But that's about as far as I go, various lesser ancillary sub-arguments ignored for the moment.

I have hope. That's all. It may yet be crushed into a pitiful, shredded, pulp.

I can't agree with the idea that the various arguments, pro and con, are "simple." It disturbs me that you think they are, Avedon, though given your consistent position, and that of many who agree with you, I can't be surprised.

Regarding the points you bring up:

It was unjustifiable to invade without even letting the weapons inspections be completed.
That has the problem that, by definition and nature of circumstances, the weapons inspections could never be "completed." Even if one million inspectors covered every square inch of Iraq, and one hundred miles below, with Magic Super Cosmic X-Ray Detector Rings, and for good measure, did the same with Syria and Iran to make sure Saddam Hussein hadn't shipped stuff off for safe-keeping, and they then declared "Iraq is weapons free! Yay!," they'd then either have to leave, in which case we start all over again from Day 1 -- I mean, you're not going to make the argument that Saddam Hussein would have reformed, and decided to give up all WMDs, are you? -- or, my goodness, the inspectors would have to stay until the reign of Uday and Qusay's kids' or whenever.

Meanwhile, the only reason that regime let in inspectors was the fact that one hundred thousand troops were parked on his borders. Do you dispute that if, say, we had waited another year, and the troops were brought home, Hussein would not have then kicked out the inspectors? Do you think he wanted them there and would have left them there voluntarily?

And how long could most of the effective military force of the US and UK be left surrounding Iraq? A year? Two? If you claim more, I will challenge that as close to impossible, and bring the figures and facts to bear to demonstrate it.

No, a longer term stay for such a massive deployment of force was, by nature, not possible. Circumstances compelled it to be short-term.

So, in other words, the alternative to war was either: a) continuation of sanctions that everyone agrees was inhumane and killing more Iraqis that died either in the war or subsequently -- this is the pro-Iraqi people leftist argument?; or b) letting the sanctions, containment, and inspections regime collapse within a year to three years, thus releasing Hussein from his bottle, as well as continue the horror of his grinding killing of his people. Or, sorry, c) patting Hussein on the head, and saying "well, we don't like you, but there's nothing we can really do about that, so let's let bygones be bygones, and see how that works out. Can we make deals for your oil now, please? Oh, and try to be nicer to your people, please."

These don't seem to me to be compellingly sensible humane leftist alternatives. Your mileage may vary.

And it was stupid to destabilize the only secular country in that group.
Sorry, that one is so far out in left field, it stupifies me. Apply the same logic to the notion of "it was stupid to destabilize Nazi Germany," or "it was stupid to destabilize Pinochet's Chile," or "it was stupid to destabilize Poland in 1980." Since when did you become a supporter of the stability of fascist regimes?

When did "stability" become the Prime Directive? Particularly of genocidal dictatorships?

Lastly, on that, on my planet, in recent years, Iraq was far less "secular" than Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, or the United Arab Emirates. I'll provide details if you need them.

In conclusion, as I've said many times, the whole thing might come completely apart, and it may all end in tears. And serious tragedy. I can think of numerous horrible scenarios, many all too likely. You may get to, in the end, say "Ha! I was so right, and those who didn't see it were fools!"

All I'm saying for now is that I'm not declaring any such thing in return at present, and we'll see what happens. It was a gamble. Win some, lose some. The alternative to the gamble, however, was not attractive.

Thanks muchly for the other kind words. Your friend, as always, Gary.

Oh, and get The Sideshow comments, please?

10/30/2003 01:13:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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UP, UP, AND AW--, WAIT, WHAT SECTION? Slightly weirdly, the NY Times profiles comics artist Alex Ross in their "Home and Garden" section, with an account of his Halloween party, complete with picture of Ross looking goofy in a Phantom costume (who the Times unsurprisingly though erroneously describes as a "superhero"). The article, being in the section it is, is as much focused about the house and the Ross's collections of comic art and action figures as it is about Alex Ross, Comics Guy.

Read The Rest: if you care.

10/30/2003 11:55:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | |
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003
BAD HEADLINES: California Fires Menace Resorts.

I certainly agree that California should terminate menace resorts, too. Such resorts are the worst kind, and should look for other employers.

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5.

10/29/2003 10:50:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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BUFFYNESS from Marcus Rowland. Excellent stuff. Amygdala says to any Buffy fan: check it out.

(Via Avram Grumer.)

LATER: I didn't give this high enough praise. This is worthy of Joss. If you're a Buffy fan, it is must reading.

10/29/2003 10:30:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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OVER TO YOU, JIM HENLEY. Jim, meet this explication of fly-paper strategy.

Which, may I say, strikes me as a big steaming pile of... stuff.

But the after effects, the ongoing guerilla war in Iraq, is not a sign of failure in the anti-terror war, as Sen. Tom Daschle claimed on ABC News last night, but of success. It forces al Qaeda and its allies to fight us there - and better there than again in New York or Washington of elsewhere on American soil.
Possibly I'm just simple, but I fail to understand how or why al Queda is prevented from making attacks in Washington, D.C., or NYC, or Chicago, or Nashville, or Los Angeles, or Portland, or wherever in the US, because the US is occupying Iraq.

Don't they have, like, a choice in this matter?

I'm nothing but an arm-chair general whose highest military rank was Assistant Patrol Leader in the Boy Scouts, but I seem to recall the ancient military precept of "hit them where they ain't."

As in "soft targets."

A lesson al Queda has generally seemed to learn quite well. Is invading Iraq (an act I still am inclined to defend, as any regular reader knows) somehow supposed to give them amnesia? Make them so enraged that they'll decide "we must not attack the US citizens at home, any more! Attacking Paul Bremer is a far higher priority now!"?

As an ancillary point, I'm sure the Iraqi people are happy to be cast in the role of flypaper (I'm sure that US personnel in Iraq are equally happy, and, say, it can't even be asserted for the non-military personnel that "it's their job"); promulgating this meme, this "strategy," will surely work wonders in our Grand Strategy of winning the hearts and minds of the Islamic and Arab peoples.

Is this strategy truly a wise strategy?

Donald Sensing cites Austin Bay as "explaining it very well":

The massive American build-up around Iraq serves as a baited trap that Al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending American attack would demonstrate Al Qaeda's impotence. For the sake of their own reputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), Al Qaeda's cadres must show CNN and Al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor.
Fair enough. And, again, what prevents al Queda from demonstrating such a "dramatic endeavor" in a major US city? Yes, it's obviously easier to launch attacks in Iraq. But "easier" doesn't translate to "impossible in the US." And any remotely significant attacks in the US would have a thousand, maybe ten thousand, times the effectiveness of pin-prick killings in Iraq. And al Queda isn't stupid enough to not realize this.

This assertion that the reason we should have invaded Iraq is to draw out the enemy so we won't be attacked is simply illogical and if it were truly found out to be the reasoning of the US government -- which I doubt is the case, though I could be completely wrong on that -- I would need a great deal of convincing that this wasn't quite loony.

Read The Rest depending on how much you care about these sort of food-fight arguments.

10/29/2003 08:00:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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"I'VE LOOKED INTO HIS HEART, AND HE'S A GOOD MAN." Someone said that about this man.
For those who have not kept up their Russian, "oligarch" is a term of art for "rich Jews" who made their money in the massive privatization of Soviet assets in the early 1990s. It is still not a good thing to be a successful Jew in historically anti-Semitic Russia.

Since Putin was elected president in 2000, every major figure exiled or arrested for financial crimes has been Jewish. In dollar terms, we are witnessing the largest illegal expropriation of Jewish property in Europe since the Nazi seizures during the 1930s.

Unfortunately, the implications of Khodorkovsky's arrest go beyond the suppression of democratic voices and the return of official anti-Semitism. This arrest must be seen in the context of increasingly aggressive, military and extrajudicial actions in Ukraine, Moldova, the South Caucasus and Chechnya. In the past month, Putin has demanded that Ukraine sign a concessionary economic treaty; Russian intelligence services have been detected behind election irregularities in Azerbaijan and Georgia and in influence-peddling in Moldova and Abkhazia; and Russian gunboats have confronted the Ukrainian Coast Guard in an illegal attempt to seize a valuable commercial waterway.

For the balance of his first term, Putin has skillfully taken advantage of America's necessary preoccupations with the war on terrorism and the liberation of Iraq. Now Moscow and the capitals of Eastern Europe are watching carefully to see how Washington responds to this latest crackdown. If the United States fails to take a hard line in response to such a high-visibility arrest, chauvinists in the Russian Ministry of Defense and the FSB will correctly conclude that there will be no meaningful response to the reestablishment of a neo-imperial sphere of influence in the new democracies to Russia's south and west. In addition to the expected Cold War thuggery and opportunistic financial seizures, we should expect that the new powers in Russia will rig the crucial elections in Ukraine and Georgia next year and continue to prop up the brutal dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.

Finally, the incarceration of one man in Moscow's notorious Matrosskaya Tishina Prison poses painful questions for U.S. policy. It is now impossible to argue that President Bush's good-faith efforts at personal diplomacy with Putin have produced democratic outcomes.

"You know, you remind me of my dad. You were head of the Federal Security Service, after decades in the KGB, and my dad was head of the CIA! My dad has a good heart. I can tell you do, too. I'm sure your briefers didn't do a profile on me and tell you about my being born again, and that your talking to me about your religious convictions was purely spontaneous and truthful."

Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5.

10/29/2003 05:54:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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I'M CLOSING IN ON MY SECOND ANNIVERSARY of having moved to Colorado and the Southwest, and I'd just like to say that having seasons of local news being All Fire All The Time is boring.

(National news is paying no attention, of course, but there are now over 500 acres burning in Boulder County alone, and thousands more acres burning in Colorado, with many towns being evacuated.)

So I expect Governor-Elect Schwarzenegger to get right on the job of personally putting out all the fires in Cah-lee-for-neea and the Southwest, including Col-or-ahdo, in the personal inimitable tradition of his that we all know so well.

He'll probably use One Big Colossal Explosion, followed by a quip such as "you're fired!," or "you're blown!," or "hasta la vista, flameboy!"

UPDATE: Twenty minutes later, I smell smoke. Crap.

10/29/2003 04:38:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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CORRECTION: I just ran across this survey of left-wing bloggers as to who the twenty greatest Americans are. A "representative" of each of 28 blogs is listed as "contributing." One of the blogs is Amygdala.

One of three things seems most likely:

a) One of my vast horde of editorial underlings wrote in for me.

b) I have amnesia.

c) John Hawkins is confused.

To the best of my knowledge, Amygdala did not participate in this survey. For the record.

I hate such tasks as attempting to figure out who "the twenty greatest Americans" might be, since the field is so large, and reasons for being nominated so many, and thus I wouldn't be very likely to try. But I will say that most of those people on that list were great Americans, with the arguable exception of Lyndon Johnson, who did some great legislation and was also a despicable human being, not to mention can we say "Vietnam"? Thomas Paine was important, but was also a loon. U. S. Grant was a great American, but for all that he contributed so greatly to winning the Civil War, and to Reconstruction, he's unlikely to be on my hypothetical list of 20 greatest. 400 greatest, maybe.

But I'm not going any further down this road.

10/29/2003 04:27:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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CHILDISH MALIGN STUPIDITY: As carefully documented by this blogger, Brian, the real Riverbend blog, done by a woman in Iraq, is being plagiarized, faked, and twisted by an obviously odious person at - note the extra S.

Research by Brian at "Bending Truth" indicates that the thug involved is a 70-year-old Republican activist sometimes known as "Diego," who has a multitude of alias and a history of this sort of attack.

All too reminiscent of the worst of Usenet, isn't it? That's because the gentleman involved has a long history of similar Usenet abuse.

Meanwhile, although Brian has well-documented how the fake blog violates the Blogspot Terms Of Service numerous times, Blogspot is asking Riverbend to first send a snailmail complaint before they will take any action.

Which seems very weird, not to mention unreasonable, given that she lives in frigging Bagdad.

You might want to let Pyra know what you think of that here.

Meanwhile, don't get confused by the faker. He's working on a second fake at


10/29/2003 02:32:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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The Bush administration is weighing whether to shift scarce intelligence resources in Iraq away from the search for unconventional weapons in order to bolster counterinsurgency efforts, American officials said on Tuesday.

The shift of some intelligence officers, linguists and other specialists could reinforce efforts to identify and remove those attacking American soldiers, international workers and Iraqi civilians, the officials said. But, they said, the Central Intelligence Agency is wary about undermining the search for chemical and biological weapons and evidence of Iraq's suspected nuclear program.

"There are competing demands for the services of a finite number of individuals," a senior American official said. "Obviously, you don't want to fail to support the security needs in Baghdad, but on the other hand you don't want to fail to support the weapons hunt."

I wonder whatever happened to that Osama guy. I vaguely recall something about "dead or alive." Something about killing thousands of Americans.

Eh. Who can remember stuff from that long ago? It all becomes vague and unimportant. We've got to get with today's priorities!

When's the next tax cut, anyway?

Read The Rest Scale: 2 out of 5.

10/29/2003 12:51:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
First, the blogosphere rewards hyperbole. Strongly worded, over the top denunciations get far more attention (links, trackbacks, little digital pats on the head from celebribloggers, commenters saying "you go girl" or the like) than temperate criticism. If you're a blogger in search of more traffic, you know what you have to do. Even when you're not really angling for attention, this dynamic is always in play in the blogospheric ecology: your over-the-top, hyperbolic posts will get linked a lot, while your measured, reasoned, temperate ones probably won't.

It's one of the things that makes reading blogs interesting, of course. But occasionally, it can involve negligent or willful misinterpretation of the intent of someone's words, particularly if they refer to (or can be construed as bearing on) one of the hotbutton blogospheric topics, like antisemitism, anti-Americanism, etc. At its worst, the tendency can lead to posts which fabricate an outrageous scenario, as in the infamous case of the Dissident Frogman's "missing" flags. More often, it's simply a matter of well-intentioned spin, featuring genuine outrage, to be sure, but at times seeming to be more concerned with the rhetorical effect within the microcosm of the post than the matter being commented on. The unfortunate result can be that clumsiness of expression, especially when treating of difficult or touchy matters, is deliberately miscast as malevolence, without a serious attempt to understand or engage with what the author might have been getting at. Sentiment, outrage, passion masquerade as analysis.

Dr. Frank went on to make a number of other points, many of which I agree with, one of which I wrote a partial disagreement about in his comments, and a couple of which I feel are sufficiently complex that I choose not to address them just now.

But Dr. Frank is always worth reading. The point I quoted above I fully agree with and, although I, of course, slide into such excess myself at times -- a bit too much lately -- it generally makes me cranky, and when I do it myself, I generally feel regretful and a bit dirty later.

ADDENDUM: Having now read the article Dr. Frank was largely agreeing with, I find I wildly disagree with it, as a glance at my comment to his post would suggest. Don't have the energy now to get into it, though. I absolutely do think there is value to assigning levels of fault to levels of prejudice, however. We all have some degrees of some prejudices. We are not unitary beings, and claiming that we are, if you'll pardon the phrase, all, universally, nothing but black-and-white on such issues, either pure good or pure evil, is simply nutso wrong, and an extremely damaging way to view people and the world.

10/28/2003 10:47:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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MEL GIBSON'S REVELATION OF TRUTH has found a distributor.

Read The Rest: Nah. That's all you need to know. I hear, though, that Mel has made some last minute changes, and given Jesus a wacky robot buddy named "Sparky" who loves to do Three Stooges impressions. Together, they fight crime!

This will make the movie a bit more punchy and commercial. Look for the sequel: Jesus Weapon: II Holy Ghosts!

10/28/2003 08:58:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Read The Rest if you're interested.

10/28/2003 07:23:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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IF IT'S ONLY ONE QUARTER AS BAD as this in the Iraqi bribery, corruption, and inefficiency, situation, it's not just bad, it's sickening. And be clear: we're talking about American corruption, not Iraqi corruption.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. (Don't forget to click through all the pages.)

10/28/2003 07:02:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE DARK ART OF INTERROGATION, Mark Bowden's famous article, is also the best guide I've ever seen to attempting to resist interrogation. Were I in authority in al Queda, the lengthy piece would be mandatory reading.

You can decide where to place it on the scale, though. No coercion here at Amygdala!

10/28/2003 05:36:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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No, really. Real physics -- ok, with "Mach" substituting for "warp" -- with a wind tunnel and holographic interferometry. See for yourself. (Via Sore Eyes.)

10/28/2003 04:30:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WHO WILL BE THE NEXT PHAROH? This superb piece of journalism by Mary Anne Weaver, from the October Atlantic Monthly, is finally online.

It's far and away the best examination of the current tension in Eqypt over who will succeed Hosni Mubarak.

Indeed, to many of those assembled in the fair's main hall, Mubarak seemed to be walking perhaps the most precarious tightrope he had ever walked. As he made his way through the crowd, a prominent writer asked him if it was true that in an effort to avert war in Iraq, Saudi Arabia had attempted to persuade Saddam Hussein to step down.

Mubarak, normally a man of stolid demeanor and few words, looked genuinely startled. "Impossible!" he replied. "No President ever steps down!"

In all his years of rule, Mubarak has never appointed a Vice-President or designated successor (fortunately, it's not as if anyone ever tried to kill him, or anything).

Will it be Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman, chief of military intelligence, or Mubarak's son, Gamal, or a sheik, or someone else?

Plenty of good writing on the increasing Islamization and anti-Americanism in Egypt.

Read The Rest Scale: 4.5 out of 5.

10/28/2003 04:01:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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About 8:40 I went into their . . . clubhouse? Meeting place? Super-secret undisclosed location? Whatever you call it, it's where they meet. I stood quietly in the back while they did official club stuff, and took a few more pictures with my cool cameraphone . . . and then I hit the wrong button and made it ring at about 6900 Db. Color me embarrassed. When I finally took the stage, I apologized and said, "Sorry about my cell phone ringing. I just thought I'd put some more distance between me and Wesley by showing you all how technically incompetent I am."

It got a big laugh, so I guess it was worth it.

Upside-down rocketship. Clubhouse, Wil. They've owned a clubhouse since the late Sixties, and the efforts to pay for one have been a defining aspect of the oldest science fiction group in the country (since 1934).

Read The Rest Scale: only if you're fascinated.

10/28/2003 02:42:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Visiting the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a sprawling hospital complex in Northwest Washington, the first thing one notices are the young faces. Soldiers in their teens and early twenties sit in the waiting area, baseball caps on their heads, mothers at their sides. The second thing one notices about these young men evacuated from Iraq is that many of them are not whole. Where there should be arms and legs, there are too often only stumps. For all of its contemporary architecture, high-tech wards, and superb physicians, the place has the feel of a Civil War hospital.

Walter Reed is located only a few miles north of the think tanks, government offices, and, yes, magazines that pressed for war in Iraq. But it is a different country altogether. Different because, with the exception of two visits by the president, few of the war's architects have come to see the mangled 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds on whom they rely to accomplish America's aims abroad. Neither, for that matter, have many news organizations. The New York Times has yet to devote a full article to the subject, unless you count a fictional story by Jayson Blair. Nor have any of the three major newsweeklies. This despite the fact that, nearly every evening, huge C-17 and C-141 transport planes land at Andrews Air Force Base, on the outskirts of Washington, ferrying wounded Americans from military hospitals in Europe. Unlike at Baltimore-Washington International Airport--where soldiers returning on leave navigate their way through crowds of news crews and cameras--flights at Andrews land under cover of darkness, with no TV lights to guide the wounded to waiting ambulances. Instead, their stories have been left to local newspapers in Texas, Georgia, upstate New York, and elsewhere, which convey news of the maimed to hometown readers.

The near-invisibility of the wounded has several sources. The media has always treated combat deaths as the most reliable measure of battlefield progress, while for its part the administration has been reluctant to divulge the full number of wounded.

And again, the wounded are ignored. But you can point it out.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. (Again, use "cypherpunk" for ID and password.)

10/28/2003 08:52:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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OH, THAT EXPLAINS IT! I guess I knew this, but hated to put it in such plain terms.
In reality, there are a handful of genuine Democratic isolationists--people like Dennis Kucinich, who opposes rebuilding Iraq, just as he opposed Clinton's war in Kosovo. (There are also a handful of genuine Republican isolationists, for instance Texas Representative Ron Paul, a libertarian who opposed the $87 billion and the Iraq war itself.) There is a slightly larger contingent of genuine hawks, who support military interventions even when launched by presidents they loathe. Joseph Lieberman is the best Democratic example, John McCain the best Republican one. Finally, there is that large group of congressional Democrats and Republicans who are hawkish when the commander-in-chief hails from their party and dovish when he does not. Ideologically, it makes no sense that Democrats--who say keeping the United States safe requires improving the lives of people in the Muslim world--would oppose Bush's request for grants to rebuild Iraq. And it makes no sense that Republicans--who opposed even modest nation-building efforts in Haiti and the Balkans--would endorse such a costly one in Iraq. But on Capitol Hill last week, intellectual consistency hardly mattered. Democrats voted against the reconstruction money for the same reason Republicans opposed the Kosovo war: They consider the president a dangerous liar and don't want to empower him in any way.
It's true. The overwhelming number of our national politicians -- from both parties -- and I say this as someone who has always defended the principle that politics can be a noble occupation and that those in office have a difficult row to hoe in making honorable and productive compromises -- are today largely partisan hacks who give no thought at betraying their country's, and the world's, interests, at the expense of their party's.

Disgusting, but true.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. (Use "cypherpunk" for password and ID.)

10/28/2003 08:44:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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NOT CLEAR ON THE CONCEPT: Gregg Easterbrook doesn't seem to understand what the difference is between a scientific theory, and simply speculating (or believing) with no falsifisable basis.
But the article left out the really interesting part, which is what the question of other dimensions says about the spiritual debate. At Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, researchers discuss ten unobservable dimensions, or an infinite number of imperceptible universes, without batting an eye. Scientists banter offhandedly about invisible realities that might incorporate trillions of billions of galaxies, and suppose such things are real in spite of there being no physical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. No one considers discussion of other dimensions to be peculiar. Ten unobservable dimensions, an infinite number of invisible parallel universes--hey, why not?

Yet if at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or top schools, you proposed that there exists just one unobservable dimension--the plane of the spirit--and that it is real despite our inability to sense it directly, you'd be laughed out of the room. Or conversation would grind to a halt to avoid offending your irrational religious superstitions.

To modern thought, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are incredible numbers of extra physical dimensions gives no pause. Yet which idea sounds more implausible--one unseen dimension or billions of them?

The answer, Gregg, is "neither, until one idea is tested and proven."

Now, which is the falsifisable one, Gregg?

Read The Rest Scale: 1 out of 5. (What the heck is a literal "spiritual dimension," anyway, and just how, exactly, does it fit into physics theory? WTF?) (And just how "plausible" is quantum theory, relativity theory, and contemporary particle theory, as measured by mere Newtonian, let alone, say, Aristotelean, thought?)

ADDENDUM: BusyBusyBusy's typically apt "shorter" version:

Theoretical physicists stubbornly prefer science to magical thinking, even though science is complicated while magic easily explains lots of stuff.

10/28/2003 08:11:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WHAT WENT WRONG WITH NASA AND THE SHUTTLE: An interview with expert writer William Langewiesche.

If you care about the subject, Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. If not, not.

10/28/2003 05:36:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WHEN HARRY BEAT POLLARD so hard about the ears that the Independent columnist helplessly confesses:
OK, you've all got me banged to rights. It's a pretty awful post, I concede. I went out of my way to keep saying weasel words pointing out the principled objections to such a ban. But they were, clearly, not enough and my weak argument has been, quite rightly, shot to pieces.

And it's not much of an excuse, either, to point out that I wrote the piece after being up for nearly 36 hours in a row and feeling like shit. If it's good enough to offer for publication, it should stand or fall on its merits. And, clearly, it falls.

So what does this all mean?

It means you're all right, and I'm wrong; a smoking ban isn't the way forward.

It means I find smoking to be such a truly disgusting habit in the way it affects others (and I don't mean medically - I didn't mention passive smoking once) that I am reduced to spluttering what is clearly ill-thought through nonsense in reaction to my hatred for the habit.

Read The Rest Scale: 1 out of 5. But this is the cause of that effect. Hee.

10/28/2003 04:42:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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JOHANN HARI ON George Galloway (now expelled from the Labour Party):
The truth is that, to all decent people, Galloway and his dwindling band of comrades were rotting in a political graveyard before any of these accusations emerged. We do not need allegations of financial crookedness; we already know that he is morally crooked. The evidence for his authoritarianism is clear (indeed, I had documented it at length in this column, and said that he should be expelled from the Labour Party long before the current scandal). He has said that he would describe himself as a Stalinist (death toll: 30 million) if it was not "making a rod for my own back". He describes the day the Soviet Union fell as "the worst day of my life". He supports the death penalty. He praised General Musharraf's coup in Pakistan, saying that "in poor third world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. Pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together ... Democracy is a means, not an end in itself." (I know Bush and Blair have also praised Musharraf; they too should be ashamed).

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. The excellent Hari, by the way, is now blogging, along with others, at the excellent (mostly British) leftist site, Harry's Place. from which I swiped this.

10/28/2003 04:27:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WE'RE NOT THE SAME RIVER. A thoughtful bit from Eric Idle:
"You look more like you do now than you did then. "

A woman said that to me last night at the signing. Good isn't it? I feel more like I do today than I did then too. We are constantly mistaken for those who we were. But we're not them. Those young men are dead. Gone. We older, wider and greyer men are their descendants. They were smart, young, bright and clever and terribly energetic. We have to talk about them as though we were them. But we're not you know. I used to be Eric Idle in that group. But now I'm not. I'm not even like him. He drank and smoke and ate meat. He was married to a blond Australian. I'm none of the above. But looking at his pictures he was quite cute, and mercifully, he didn't know it. He had a lot of insecurities which have since been ironed out by a jolly good shrink. (I know the English disapprove of shrinkage, but then they still think smoking is a good idea…and look at their tabloids. They're bonkers.) I think that's why some interviews are so taxing for me. They want to talk to him. And I'm not him, any more than Ringo is still Ringo. Sometimes I have to pretend to be him, and I can still do his material and sing his songs, but clearly I'm a totally different person.

"Totally" seems a bit of an understandable over-statement, but the observation is well-taken for all of us. I suspect some examples of some people's emotional problems results from confusion and lack of understanding of this, and unwise attempts to reconcile necessary distinctions between past-Us and present-Us.

Read The Rest as you wish.

10/28/2003 03:45:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Martin Amis's new novel reads like a sendup of a Martin Amis novel written by someone intent on sabotaging his reputation. It bears as much resemblance to Mr. Amis's best fiction as a bad karaoke singer does to Frank Sinatra, as a kitchen magnet of Munch's "Scream" does to the real painting.

It is a novel that takes every theme, narrative technique and preoccupation of the author and turns it inside out, revealing how qualities that have established Mr. Amis as one of the foremost stylists of his generation can easily devolve into self-indulgence and mannerism; how daring choices in subject matter and form can mutate into mere grossness and hollow pretension.

I don't think Kakutani liked it.

Read The Rest if you care.

10/28/2003 03:06:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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SAY NO MORE. Eric Idle is writing a travel diary of his American tour. First day:

I think of Mike setting out on his great journeys. Well mine won't be so bold. Around North America in Eighty Days. He's probably in Pakistan eating dog with an Oxford educated goat-herder and part-time weapons dealer, while I am headed for an executive class seat on Air Canada, but chaque a son gout, as the French say when looking at English food. I still feel somewhat nervous encroaching on the Palin territory of writing a travel diary based on a journey and perhaps I should avoid the whole coffee table book concept. Perhaps I can skip straight to the dining table book and produce a book so large eight people can have dinner on it. I want to avoid any unpleasant sense of stealing Michael's thunder, though it is true, I reason, that all the Pythons' have been involved in documentaries: Jonesy walked half way to Jerusalem in crusader armour holding a spear, Gilliam is the heroic subject of a classic documentary about the non - making of a movie, and even Cleesy went to Madagascar to invade the privacy of the lemurs. So this must be a Python thing. What is this urge to probe and examine by ex-comedians? Are they tired of dressing up as women? Surely not. In any case I am mistaken so regularly for Mike I decide I surely have the right to go ahead and be the first to write a dining table book. Perhaps a bedside table would be even better with lots of photographs of naked women. Publishers like that sort of thing. But then there's the wife to face, and I don't really anticipate there will be all that many nude women in the theater at my shows. Perhaps if I do it serially on PythOnline, no one can accuse me of doing it for the money. Everyone knows the readers of PythOnline are tight bastards. It's a wonder they interrupt their free downloading to even visit the site…

There's an immense amount more, as he's already completed twenty-eight days out of the planned eighty.

Read The Rest Scale: why, it's almost as if he's funny.

10/28/2003 01:47:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Monday, October 27, 2003

-- Julia Roberts: "Halo"

-- Entertainment Weekly, "100 Greatest Videogames," May 9 issue

"We received your interview request for Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, she is not available. Thank you."

-- Julia Roberts' publicist

Julia Roberts' weapon of choice is the M19 SSM rocket launcher. Not the zippiest firearm in the toolkit, sure, and does diddly in close-up melee action. But it's got a double-barrel rocket payload, and pound for pound, it punches like a mofo. Julia Roberts' favorite trick during multiplayer capture-the-flag matches is to camp near the team banner from a high vantage point and wait until the other side's closing in. And at the last possible second, when they're right about to nab it, pop out in the open with that hand cannon and...

"Dance, ya little bitches, dance!" Julia Roberts hoots, as the blast impact flings three opponent squaddies airborne. Her whole wiry body explodes off the Eames couch in the Emperor's Suite at the Peninsula Hotel, and she jabs her middle finger at the 64-inch plasma flatscreen, as their crispy corpses hit the ground like rag dolls.

Ms. Roberts is trying to live a normal life, according to People magazine's latest 50 Most Beautiful People issue, and in it, Denzel Washington says, amazed, "You'd be amazed how down to earth she really is." But he's not amazed now, because he's been trying to get her bony ass off the couch for the last five minutes.


Up Sunset, Jennifer Garner huffs and then heaves her copy of Entertainment Weekly into the back wall of the Viper Room. She cannot believe her bitch publicist got her to tell the EW stringer that "Ms. Pac Man" was her favorite videogame. This article was supposed to get her in tight with her geek boy "Alias"/"Daredevil" fan base, but then here comes Miss Thing all talking about "Halo," some intense, blowing-crap-up deal, while there she is naming some old school, girly-girl arcade game every female in the whole damn world has played.

Once again, she thinks, clenching her fists, America's sweetheart has preempted us all. Damn Julia Roberts and her Xbox, Jennifer Garner seethes, damn her.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5, especially for getting to Oprah, and how Julia prevents Sayyid Rahmin from delivering the latest missive from Osama bin Laden. (Via Greg Costikyan.)

10/27/2003 09:27:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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PHILOSOPHICAL LAUGHING: I missed this Malcolm Gladwell piece the first time. Ostensibly about the original SNL crew, it's, as usual for Gladwell, about social dynamics.
We are inclined to think that genuine innovators are loners, that they do not need the social reinforcement the rest of us crave. But that’s not how it works, whether it’s television comedy or, for that matter, the more exalted realms of art and politics and ideas. In his book “The Sociology of Philosophies,” Randall Collins finds in all of known history only three major thinkers who appeared on the scene by themselves: the first-century Taoist metaphysician Wang Ch’ung, the fourteenth-century Zen mystic Bassui Tokusho, and the fourteenth-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun. Everyone else who mattered was part of a movement, a school, a band of followers and disciples and mentors and rivals and friends who saw each other all the time and had long arguments over coffee and slept with one another’s spouses.

[some examples of social groups elided]

Collins’s point is not that innovation attracts groups but that innovation is found in groups: that it tends to arise out of social interaction -- conversation, validation, the intimacy of proximity, and the look in your listener’s eye that tells you you’re onto something.


[excellent example elided]


What were they doing? Darwin, in a lovely phrase, called it “philosophical laughing,” which was his way of saying that those who depart from cultural or intellectual consensus need people to walk beside them and laugh with them to give them confidence. But there’s more to it than that. One of the peculiar features of group dynamics is that clusters of people will come to decisions that are far more extreme than any individual member would have come to on his own. People compete with each other and egg each other on, showboat and grandstand; and along the way they often lose sight of what they truly believed when the meeting began. Typically, this is considered a bad thing, because it means that groups formed explicitly to find middle ground often end up someplace far away. But at times this quality turns out to be tremendously productive, because, after all, losing sight of what you truly believed when the meeting began is one way of defining innovation.

To which I say to all of this: yes, yes, yes! I've observed all of this, and very much agree.
Uglow’s book reveals how simplistic our view of groups really is. We divide them into cults and clubs, and dismiss the former for their insularity and the latter for their banality. The cult is the place where, cut off from your peers, you become crazy. The club is the place where, surrounded by your peers, you become boring. Yet if you can combine the best of those two states -- the right kind of insularity with the right kind of homogeneity -- you create an environment both safe enough and stimulating enough to make great thoughts possible. You get Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and a revolution in Western philosophy. You get Darwin, Watt, Wedgwood, and Priestley, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. And sometimes, on a more modest level, you get a bunch of people goofing around and bringing a new kind of comedy to network television.
Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. As an incidental, you get gossip about the original SNL crowd, and who was sleeping with who, but that stuff's all already been published elsewhere.

10/27/2003 08:17:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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SHE'S VERY FEY. Typically long New Yorker profile of Saturday Night Live head writer, Tina Fey. Further proof that bitter, judgmental, and caustic can make for successful comedy.

Read The Rest: if Fey's ever made you laugh. Or if, you know, you'd rather complain about how vulgar, nasty, and awful her humor is.

10/27/2003 02:48:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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SQUARING THE CIRCLE: Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking defector from North Korea, the inventor-ideologist of their "juche" self-reliance doctrine, tutor to Kim Jong Il and advisor to him and Kim Il Sung for over forty years, is coming to the US for the first time, and will address the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This is a good thing, but the tough part is this:

In a recent interview in Seoul, Mr. Hwang, 80, made it clear that he would oppose any deal in which Mr. Kim would give up his nuclear bombs but remain in charge in North Korea.


"I absolutely oppose giving North Korea guarantees if the North withdraws its nuclear weapons program," he said. "I completely oppose any policy that will ensure maintenance of the North's dictatorship."

That's terrific in theory, but in practice, how do we balance this justly moral sentiment against the need to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea? How do we balance, in essence, the lives of South Koreans against the lives of North Koreans?

I don't have any sort of precise answer on that, and falling back on banalities such as (my words) "we have to carefully balance the need to negotiate for the best possible nuclear safeguards against the need to not grant legitimacy and strength to the North Korean government" really doesn't get us very far in any sort of useful way.

North Korea remains an immensely worrying trouble spot, not least because, as in so many other situations, the correct answers are far from clear.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

10/27/2003 02:07:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: There's a Burger King at Baghdad International, and its sales are in the top ten of all BK franchises on planet Earth.

Read The Rest if that interests you.

10/27/2003 01:43:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THOSE WELFARE QUEENS!: Imagine handing over $5.7 billion tax dollars totally unnecessarily to support a bunch of people who are doing very well for themselves. That damn liberal nanny state!

So here's another version of their story, and how your government which always speaks of "fighting waste, fraud, and abuse" is giving your money away.

The welfare queen's name is "Boeing."

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. (If that link is temporarily not working, try starting here.)

Here is some other background. This is a truly important story. Tell me again how we can trust these folks with our national defense?

10/27/2003 01:30:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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RETURN TO HEART OF DARKNESS. It's been a while since I've said anything about Congo (you can try dropping the word into this blog's "search" function on the upper left, for a recap), but while this detailed account of the wide-spread role cannibalism and magical thinking are playing in the wars and chaos in Congo is almost too horrifying to read, it is our duty not to look away and not to refuse to pay attention.
To glimpse the depth of magical thinking, of spiritual vision, that lies beneath the cannibalism, I arranged for a display of spiritual power. In khaki slacks, a neatly pressed white dress shirt and a gaucho-style hat made of ''witch material,'' Vita Kitambala, a Mayi-Mayi military general and traditional priest, demonstrated his capacity to deflect bullets. The strength he claimed was not due to cannibalism, as far as I know. He would not reveal the rituals or substances that allowed him, according to his troops (who ranged in age from 8 to adulthood), to make his soldiers fly or to make himself invisible. He would agree only to give evidence of his ability. So, one morning, he directed one of his soldiers to set a green flip-flop on the patchy grass of his Mayi-Mayi garrison. Amid the rectangular huts, another gunman shook a black jerrycan. With AK-47's and grenade launchers, a great crowd of troops had gathered in the sun, amused but not terribly excited. Water from the jerrycan was splashed onto the flip-flop -- the same sanctified water, blessed secretly by the general, that the soldiers had often splashed on themselves.

They all knew of the water's bulletproofing power in battle. They had laughed, the previous afternoon, at my skepticism, my deprivation of faith, when they told of the things their general could do. ''The mzungu cannot believe,'' they said, using the Swahili word for ''white man.'' They had their knowledge, a truth they took for granted, and there was no ceremony, no fanfare, to the demonstration now. A teenager standing over the flip-flop fired down so suddenly that I missed the aiming. The green rubber was unscathed, but I requested another display. The general offered to let me choose any gun in the crowd, to let me fire it, so I would know there were no tricks. He offered to let me shoot at the chest of any soldier.

I declined. I suggested we place my notebook on the ground, douse it with water, shoot and see if it survived. No, he answered, for I might already have performed my own magic, my own mzungu gris-gris, upon it. He worried, too, that when I returned home I would have the notebook analyzed to learn the water's secret elements.

At last a camouflage-patterned hat was drenched. This time I focused carefully on the gunman, on whether he aimed downward precisely at the target. He didn't. He lifted the barrel several inches as he fired. Dirt spattered up three feet from the hat. His move seemed so awkward, so obvious, that for a moment I believed I felt everyone's embarrassment.

But the general didn't look embarrassed at all. The spiritual force of the water bent the barrel, he explained matter-of-factly, causing the bullet to veer off target.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/27/2003 01:15:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WE COMMENT ON OTHER PARTS OF THE BRAIN. In this case, the ventral putamen. And neural marketing.
So why, Montague asked himself not long ago, did Coke appeal so strongly to so many people if it didn't taste any better?

Over several months this past summer, Montague set to work looking for a scientifically convincing answer. He assembled a group of test subjects and, while monitoring their brain activity with an M.R.I. machine, recreated the Pepsi Challenge. His results confirmed those of the TV campaign: Pepsi tended to produce a stronger response than Coke in the brain's ventral putamen, a region thought to process feelings of reward. (Monkeys, for instance, exhibit activity in the ventral putamen when they receive food for completing a task.) Indeed, in people who preferred Pepsi, the ventral putamen was five times as active when drinking Pepsi than that of Coke fans when drinking Coke.

In the real world, of course, taste is not everything. So Montague tried to gauge the appeal of Coke's image, its ''brand influence,'' by repeating the experiment with a small variation: this time, he announced which of the sample tastes were Coke. The outcome was remarkable: almost all the subjects said they preferred Coke. What's more, the brain activity of the subjects was now different. There was also activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that scientists say governs high-level cognitive powers. Apparently, the subjects were meditating in a more sophisticated way on the taste of Coke, allowing memories and other impressions of the drink -- in a word, its brand -- to shape their preference.

Pepsi, crucially, couldn't achieve the same effect. When Montague reversed the situation, announcing which tastes were of Pepsi, far fewer of the subjects said they preferred Pepsi. Montague was impressed: he had demonstrated, with a fair degree of neuroscientific precision, the special power of Coke's brand to override our taste buds.

Measuring brand influence might seem like an unusual activity for a neuroscientist, but Montague is just one of a growing breed of researchers who are applying the methods of the neurology lab to the questions of the advertising world.

Moxie Cola, anyone? Yes, say hello to The Space Merchants.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5, because you want to know about using MRIs for neural marketing. Amygdala can tell.

10/27/2003 01:02:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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TEN QUESTIONS FOR JOHN SAYLES on story structure, how he writes, the movie business, and such-like. Oh, yeah, with answers.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5 if Sayles, a terrific screen-writer, director, and novelist, or those topics, interest you.

10/27/2003 12:47:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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COUNT THE REFERENCES in Kill-Bill. (No, if you don't like it, I don't expect this will give you the faintest cause to change your mind. And, no, I've not even seen it yet; sudden financial damage makes me dubious of spending money on a movie just now.)

Read The Rest: if you're interested in Tarantino; if not, not.

10/27/2003 12:38:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Sunday, October 26, 2003
WHAT'S WRONG WITH STAR WARS: GALAXIES. The always thoughtful Timothy Burke has observations.

Read The Rest if you're interested in Massive Multi-player Online Games or in Star Wars. If not, not, and check out his take-down of the pomposity of Harold Bloom's response to Stephen King.

10/26/2003 11:03:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE INEVITABLE RESULT: The Saudi opposition is beginning to be felt.
Asked if his organization's purpose was reform of the monarchy or its removal, he said, "Before Oct. 14, even people who agreed with us thought we were talking about things that were impossible in Saudi Arabia, and they called me impractical and unrealistic. But now I am confident to say that the downfall of the regime is an inevitable result of what has started."
Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/26/2003 10:50:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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The roots of Bolivia's upheaval lie in chronic poverty and a regional economic crisis. But three precipitating factors were directly related to the United States and a rising tide of anti-Americanism. The most important was the U.S. demand in recent years that Bolivia eradicate tens of thousands of hectares of coca, thereby robbing 50,000 or so peasant farmers (and perhaps five times as many dependents) of their livelihoods, without offering any realistic alternatives.

The second flashpoint was the recent announcement by the Sanchez de Lozada government of its intention to export natural gas to the United States, via a pipeline to a Chilean port, provoking rumors that Bolivia's gas was being given away to much-distrusted U.S. and Chilean interests. The third factor was the strain throughout 2003 of politically explosive International Monetary Fund austerity measures backed by the United States.

An excellent NY Times account here.
On a visit to the White House last year, President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada told President Bush that he would push ahead with a plan to eradicate coca but that he needed more money to ease the impact on farmers.

Otherwise, the Bolivian president's advisers recalled him as saying, "I may be back here in a year, this time seeking political asylum."

Mr. Bush was amused, Bolivian officials recounted, told his visitor that all heads of state had tough problems and wished him good luck.

Now Mr. Sánchez de Lozada, Washington's most stalwart ally in South America, is living in exile in the United States after being toppled last week by a popular uprising, a potentially crippling blow to Washington's anti-drug policy in the Andean region.


"The U.S. insistence on coca eradication was at the core of Sánchez de Lozada's problem," said Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian scholar who is director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami.

Dr. Gamarra and others point to events in Bolivia as a warning that United States drug policy may sow still wider instability in the region, where anti-American sentiment is building with the failure of economic reforms that Washington has helped encourage here.

In Bolivia the backlash has strengthened the hand of the political figure regarded by Washington as its main enemy: Evo Morales, head of the coca growers' federation, who finished second in presidential election last year.

And so the War On Some Drugs brings down governments, and, as always, sabotages itself. What a colossal waste of money and humanity this policy has caused over the past eighty years.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5 for both.

10/26/2003 10:26:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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WHO STOLE MY PENIS? Probably only at least three, if that many, of my readers will have a clue as to what I refer when I say that I had no idea that Sudanese had stolen Harlan Ellison's 1977 roast story about Mike Glicksohn.

Oh, well.

REad The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. (Via Winds of Change.)

10/26/2003 10:17:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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When broken down geographically, the poll reinforces the differences among the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in central Iraq and the majority Shia in the south, illustrating the difficulties facing any group trying to form a constitutional government. "The data suggest that Iraqi citizens have different ideas of what democratic and Islamic political systems mean on a functional level," the survey says, and "no public consensus on what type of political framework is best for Iraq."

The survey was based on 1,444 interviews in seven urban areas designed to include the religious and nationalist tendencies of Iraq, the Shia and Sunni Muslims of central and southern Iraq and the Kurds of the north.

In two cities (Irbil and Sulaymaniyah) polled in the Kurdish north, a Western-style democracy or a mix with Islam is overwhelmingly favored. In the southern cities of Basra and Najaf, where the majority Shia predominate, almost two-thirds of those polled thought it important that religious leaders play a large role in politics, and an Islamic state is far more popular.

Even in Baghdad, almost 60 percent of the respondents thought it important that religious leaders play a major role in government, and more than half of the respondents considered it "very important." The capital city was almost evenly divided, with about a third favoring a Western democracy, another third a mix of democracy and Islam, and the final third wanting an Islamic state with sharia, the religious law, as part of government.

The State Department poll showing respondents' desire for a religious role in government appears to run counter to what Bush administration leaders expected. Last month, Vice President Cheney referred to a Zogby International poll which he said showed overwhelming opposition to an Islamic government.

"If you want to ask them do they want an Islamic government established, by 2 to 1 margins they say no, including the Shia population," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

According to the poll, 92 percent of those surveyed in Najaf favored an Islamic state; in Basra, 31 percent preferred an Islamic state and 23 percent wanted a mix of democracy and Islam.

Incidentally, Cheney's ability to believe in what he wants to believe is something truly to behold, to be bewitched by, and not at all to be bothered about. No, siree!

And, then, of course, he makes sure that Condaleeza Rice and Andrew Card find all the True Facts to support this reality, and they "objectively" explain it to that nice nan in the Oval Office.

Why question a system that works?

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

10/26/2003 08:34:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Electrochemical fuel cells could provide an elegant solution to energy generation and waste disposal — by linking the two. A microbial fuel cell harvests electrons produced during microbial metabolism and channels them to generate an electric current. In this month's issue of Nature Biotechnology, Swades Chaudhuri and Derek Lovley show that a metal-reducing bacterium, Rhodoferax ferrireducens, provides a constant flow of electrons to graphite electrodes with more than 80% efficiency. As growth is supported by energy derived from the electron-transfer process, these fuel cells result in self-renewing and impressively efficient long-term power production.
Read The Rest Scale: there's accompanying full text, if you're interested.

10/26/2003 08:15:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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This is a question that will strike most folks as unbearably dull, and understandably so, but it's also a quite important one.

The gist of this piece, as is most of the rest of what I read on the topic, is that it's quite arguably entirely legal to redistrict voting districts every darn year, if you like, and that the recent tradition of most of the past century of only doing so every decade unless forced otherwise by a court, is just that: a tradition.

But it also doesn't seem helpful, in the long run, whatever your partisan choice is, to allow for such a mess to take place so frequently.

Naturally, a classic alternative is having an independent commission do it. But perhaps something a bit more radical is called for -- some whole new algorithim for districting voting districts. (A really radical scheme would drop geographically-based elections, but I don't imagine we'll be going there any time soon.)

Read The Rest Scale: 3.75 out of 5.

10/26/2003 08:09:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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A privacy group hired a skywriter to write part of the Social Security number of Citigroup's chief executive above New York City on Friday, protesting the bank's lobbying efforts to keep lawmakers from tightening privacy regulations and demonstrating that even the privacy of bank executives is at risk.

Working during a break in cloud cover, an airplane scrawled the first five digits of CEO Charles Prince's Social Security number in 15-story numerals above Citigroup's global headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights called attention to the bank's backing of a Senate bill that would prevent states from protecting consumers' privacy.

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5.

10/26/2003 08:03:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Read The Rest Scale: 6 out of 5.

10/26/2003 05:06:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE WONDERFULNESS OF STALIN. The NY Times looks back at their Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty's, work from 1932.

Who loves omelettes?

March 31, 1933:

It is all too true that the novelty and mismanagement of collective farming, plus the quite efficient conspiracy of Feodor M. Konar and his associates in agricultural commissariats, have made a mess of Soviet food production. [Konar was executed for sabotage.]

But — to put it brutally — you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialization as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.

Russians are different than you and me!
June 14, 1931:

Stalin is giving the Russian people — the Russian masses, not Westernized landlords, industrialists, bankers and intellectuals, but Russia's 150,000,000 peasants and workers — what they really want, namely, joint efforts, communal effort. And communal life is as acceptable to them as it is repugnant to a Westerner. This is one of the reasons why Russian Bolshevism will never succeed in the United States, Great Britain, France or other parts west of the Rhine.

Stalinism, too, has done what Lenin only attempted. It has re-established the semi-divine, supreme autocracy of the imperial idea and has placed itself on the Kremlin throne as a ruler whose lightest word is all in all and whose frown spells death.

Try that on free-born Americans or the British with their tough loyalty to old things, or on France's consciousness of self. But it suits the Russians and is as familiar, natural and right to the Russian mind as it is abominable and wrong to Western nations.

There's more. Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

It's worth noting that whitewashing of admirers of the Soviet Union continues today. Why is it that support for the brutal and murderous regimes of Stalin, or his successors, or of Mao and his, gets a pass because of the "good intentions" of the Communists (I know perfectly well about the good intentions; my mother was a member of the Party in the Thirties), but, say, the Nazis, or Mussolini, or Franco, don't? They thought they had perfectly good intentions, as well, as did their supporters.

10/26/2003 02:00:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Saturday, October 25, 2003
WHAT'S LEFT OF THE LEFT in Israel? Ian Buruma asks and answers in his usual thoughtful manner.

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5.

10/25/2003 11:21:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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The chairman of the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks says that the White House is continuing to withhold several highly classified intelligence documents from the panel and that he is prepared to subpoena the documents if they are not turned over within weeks.

The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, also said in an interview on Friday that he believed the bipartisan 10-member commission would soon be forced to issue subpoenas to other executive branch agencies because of continuing delays by the Bush administration in providing documents and other evidence needed by the panel.

"Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach," Mr. Kean said on Friday in his first explicit public warning to the White House that it risked a subpoena and a politically damaging courtroom showdown with the commission over access to the documents, including Oval Office intelligence reports that reached President Bush's desk in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I will not stand for it," Mr. Kean said in the interview in his offices here at Drew University, where he has been president since 1990.

"That means that we will use every tool at our command to get hold of every document."


While Mr. Kean said he was barred by an agreement with the White House from describing the Oval Office documents at issue in any detail — he said the White House was "quite nervous" about any public hint at their contents — other commission officials said they included the detailed daily intelligence reports that were provided to Mr. Bush in the weeks leading up to Sept. 11. The reports are known within the White House as the Presidential Daily Briefing.


Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/25/2003 08:27:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE my crack of doom.

View The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/25/2003 07:14:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Friday, October 24, 2003
WE LOVES OURSELVES, OUR PRECIOUS. Our crack editorial team here at Amygdala has recently been getting too incestous and has been reprimanded, and reduced in pay, for that, but we've just now discovered the reason for our many hits from the Blogstreet Big 100.

Er, crap, we're 37.

(That would be, "holy crap, we're 37th.") Tbat's 37th "most influential" in the world.

So why don't we have any readers, or commenters?

Either this number is insane or we are. I nominate us.

10/24/2003 07:24:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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AMERICANS ARE IDIOTS the Brititish will conclude. Rightly. Okay, so, instead, can someone Welsh adopt me?

Andrew Weiiner, at least, is an idiot. Pandering schmuck.

10/24/2003 10:34:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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HOLY CRAP, Spider-woman was still alive. Who knew?

Read The Rest Scale 3 out of 5.

10/24/2003 10:22:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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BEST. POST. EVER. Okay, not quite that, but you wouldn't have paid attention if I merely said "excellent post."
The internet was being bothersome today, so I went away and did something else.
Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5 for the post, but not for "Natalie"'s site.

10/24/2003 07:02:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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BY THE WAY: James, if you like slightly larger camcorders, get the Sony TRV-38. If you prefer them slightly smaller, get the TRV-22.

Both are excellent, especially given their touchscreen controls. The TRV-38 will take better pictures, though.

10/24/2003 05:23:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Thursday, October 23, 2003
I HEREBY DECLARE that I am now officialy a bloggers' blogger. I have everyone from Mickey Kaus to James Lileks to Glenn Reynolds to Brad Delong coming by here, but, absent e-mail from me to generate links -- which I've not done in about four months -- I get about 200 hits a day. That's why, I guess, I'm on that list of "most influential bloggers."

I'm terribly influential. I just don't have many, you know, readers. Or commenters.

That sort of thing is what defines a thinger's thing, innit?

It's not, after all, as if a a brilliant prose stylist is making general observations about my website.

10/23/2003 08:50:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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YIKES. I've corresponded with James Lileks a lot, but I'm never yet used to the big boys dropping by, such as here. (In comments; where you should all be telling me what you think of every post. Darnn it.)

10/23/2003 08:42:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5.

10/23/2003 05:56:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Hi. Okay, so, I did the outline. For the paper on Roosevelt. Turns out there are two Presidents Roosevelts. So I didn't know exactly which one to do. And so I did both. And I kinda know, kinda know, they're kinda short, I can flesh them out! Oh, and here's the bibliography!

And I can retype that if you want! You just let me know what you want! I'll get on that.

Place apple. I'm just channeling. It's a DVD thing.

10/23/2003 12:07:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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NASA's flight team is unable to assess the quality of air or water and the radiation levels aboard the space lab because of a growing array of hardware problems that have not been corrected and that may constitute the kind of subtle, creeping risk that NASA officials have vowed to avoid based on the harsh lessons learned from the Feb. 1 Columbia shuttle accident, according to documents, minutes and interviews obtained by The Washington Post.
We desperately need the privatized space program to get into space.

I don't say this out of ideology. I say this out of looking at what's working, and what's not.

A nostalgia post about all the NASA pictures and posters on my walls, and the walls of my parents' hallway, I posted them on, when I was eight to twelve years old, from 1966 to 1972, is another post.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5.

10/23/2003 05:24:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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REMIND ME TO COMMENT on Luc Sante on NYC, please? Luc Sante can be a jerk (his stuff on science fiction) and can be brilliant. His take on NYC in the Seventies both repels me, and makes me say "yes, yes, yes, that's it!"

This is not a piece for James Lileks, though I'd be perfectly prepared -- if I had an internet link on hand to provide supporting material -- and would be pleased to chat with James about what can be great and fine about squalor, unobvious as it is clearly is.

I don't care if Sante got his info on junkies from friends, or personal experience, or wherever. That's not a piece of the scene I have much knowledge of.

But the rest of this is so spot on about a certain sensibility, and appeal of, the city in that era, that I say Read The Rest: 4 out of 5. Atmosphere. I breathed and lived and enjoyed that atmosphere. The city is my city.

10/23/2003 04:57:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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DAVE BARRY HAS NEVER influenced my writing. No, sir!

This is one of his worst columns, ever. Read The Rest, and you won't be amused in the slightest.

If you don't, I'll eat your dog.

10/23/2003 04:41:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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USEFUL AND ACCURATE commentary on Mahathir from Sean LaFreniere and Dan Drezner.

Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5.

10/23/2003 03:26:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Wednesday, October 22, 2003
MICHAEL DIRDA . Read The Rest only if you know who he is.

10/22/2003 07:57:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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AND NOT TO FORGET John Edwards. Gosh, he sure is a great guy.

According to this article.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

10/22/2003 05:57:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Here in Washington, on the other side of the globe, a small organization called the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea will today use pictures to discuss the problem of North Korea with anyone who wants to listen. The pictures that the committee has procured -- and now published, together with a report called "The Hidden Gulag" -- are satellite photographs of North Korean concentration camps. With remarkable clarity they show, for example, the contours of Yodok, one of the most notorious prison camps in North Korea: the barracks and "villages" inhabited by different categories of prisoners, including political prisoners; the mines, the flour mill, the farms where prisoners work; the cemetery. They also show the outlines of Bukchang, another vast camp, including its cement factory, its hospital, its punishment barracks, its school for prisoners' children. Distinct objects, including the high walls that enclose the camps, are clearly visible.


Because I've met diplomats who deal with North Korea, I also know that the impact of the photographs will be limited. Even when they are put together with the testimony of witnesses, they tell an incomplete story, after all. It is now known that entire families are imprisoned at places like Bukchang and Yodok. It is not known how many people are in prison altogether. It is known that prisoners, including children, work 10-hour days as slave laborers. It is not known how important these camps are to the North Korean economy. Only when the regime collapses, and only when more documents emerge, will those questions be answered.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5 for why governments don't want to know about this.

10/22/2003 01:37:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Appearing on "Hardball" last night, John Kerry reiterated his familiar position that there was a "legitimate rationale" for invading Iraq, but that George W. Bush had gone about it in the "wrong way." But this time, Kerry added a new twist: When the show's host, Chris Matthews, asked how much time a president Kerry would have given diplomacy to work, Kerry said that he might still, a year later, be haggling with the United Nations over the use of force. "Why not?" Kerry asked. "Absolutely."

Well, there are a lot of reasons why not. For one thing, keeping more than 100,000 U.S. troops amassed in the Arabian desert all this time would have been a nightmare. For another, America's diplomatic hand was at its strongest just after Congress approved the use of force last October. If the United Nations couldn't be convinced to back a war back then, it's hard to imagine the chances would have grown with time.

Before the war, some argued that U.N. support could be gained if America gave arms inspectors more time to turn up evidence of WMD violations. (And when Kerry says, as he did on 'Hardball' last night, that he would have continued to haggle with the French and Russians, that almost surely would have entailed continued inspections.) But we now know that those inspectors probably wouldn't have found anything incriminating--and that the political and moral cases for war would have been weakened. Reasonable people might argue that that would have been the best outcome. But that's not Kerry's argument--he still defends the removal of Saddam Hussein as justified. How he squares this support of the war in principle with his support for added months of negotiations is more than a little puzzling. Certainly, it's a lot more complicated than saying, "Why not?"

It doesn't seem coherent, does it? As Michael Crowley implies, it might sound superficially good to those who feel the war was a bad idea, but that's not what Kerry is actually saying. (It still, incidentally, seems to me that most, though certainly not all, of the negative opinions about the war are largely simply anti-Bush feeling [which I obviously find understandable], and far less on any objective analysis of whether or not a greater good was accomplished by war than no war.)

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5; that's the whole thing.

10/22/2003 10:52:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE THINKABLE UNTHINKABLE. Leon Wieseltier's demolition job on Tony Judt.
"The time has come to think the unthinkable." It is almost an iron law of intellectual life that any idea that is advertised as unthinkable has been thought many times before. The promotion of an idea to unthinkability says nothing about the merit of the idea; many "unthinkable" ideas are not worthy of serious thought. It is not the veracity of the thought that the appeal to unthinkability seeks to establish, it is the courage of the thinker. Only truly free minds think the unthinkable. The rest are shackled by dogmas and sentiments and clichés and interests. The thinker of the unthinkable may even envy the others their intellectual tranquility, but now "the time has come," he has no choice any longer but to wound the others with the truth, to utter something bold and new, to "speak out" or "tell truth to power" or otherwise indicate that the unpopularity of his opinion is evidence for its correctness. Is it dissent? Then it must be right.

If ever an idea was not unthinkable, it is the idea of a bi-national state of Israelis and Palestinians. The fantasy is as old as the conflict itself. It has been thought and thought and thought....


He does not acknowledge the most inexorable feature of his Levantine erewhon: that in a matter of a few years the demographic realities between the river and the sea would determine its social composition and its political character. It would be a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority: Greater Palestine. The Jewish minority in Greater Palestine would be small, I suppose; many Jews will have prudently emigrated to escape such an outcome. Unlike some other proponents of the bi-national state, Judt oddly does not elaborate any requirements that it be democratic and constitutional. Perhaps he is being realistic; but then he is being even more irresponsible. For what reasons do the Israelis have to depend for security and decency upon the democratic talents of the Palestinians?

Democracy is universal in theory, but it is not universal in practice. It must be seen to be believed. And the political culture of the Palestinians is now a contest between religious maximalism and terrorism and secular maximalism and terrorism. "Palestinian reform" is so far one of the cruelest disappointments of this disappointing time; but Judt would have the Jews of Israel cast their lot with it. The nightmare of ethnic cleansing in Greater Israel disturbs his sleep, but the nightmare of ethnic cleansing in Greater Palestine does not. Greater Israel means war, but Greater Palestine means peace. Will the jihadists of Hamas really stay their hands when Afula finally is theirs? And who will protect the Jews in Greater Palestine from their wrath? An "international force"? The suggestion is outrageous. The record of international forces in conditions of ethnic cleansing is a sentence of death for any people who would look to them for salvation.

Who by fire, who by water, who by professors. Judt has four reasons for his haughty and ugly proposal. The first is that Israel is an "anachronism." It "arrived too late," because by the time it was established "the world ha[d] moved on" from the nation-state--that "characteristically nineteenth-century separatist project"--toward "a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law," of "pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural." Nothing original here, except perhaps the claim that the abolition of the nation-state should begin with the abolition of the Jewish nation-state. Another election of the Jews, I guess. But from the standpoint of the better world, why is Greater Palestine preferable to Greater Israel? More precisely, why is Greater Palestine preferable to Israel? (Greater Israel exists so far only in the plans and the hallucinations of the extreme right. It is wrong, but it is not real.) Judt has not replaced a national state with a postnational state; he has replaced a national state with another national state. He wishes to relieve Palestinian statelessness with Jewish statelessness, to exchange one vulnerable minority with another (even more) vulnerable minority. This, justice? The moral calculus of Judt's proposal is baffling.

Judt's history is also awry, which is unlike him. Israel was hardly the last or the latest nation-state to come into being. India and Pakistan were established at the same time as Israel. They, too, were born in violence and in partition. And the partition did not quell the violence. Was the partition of the subcontinent, therefore, a mistake? If it was, why does Judt not demand also the dismantling of Pakistan? Moreover, the United Nations is swollen with post-colonial nation-states that were created since the late 1940s, whose moral authority in the General Assembly and the Security Council does not seem to be vitiated for Judt by their belatedness.

There's lots more, and it's all superb. Read The Rest Scale: 6 out of 5. (Use "cypherpunk" for ID and password.)

(Via Rebecca Lesses.)

10/22/2003 06:22:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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The memo has footnotes. It has exhibits. It is crisp and professional and is written on stationery of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of New York's elite law firms. Indeed, it is the hottest law firm memo around town, but it is not about Enron, Tyco or any corporate scandal. It was not even written by a lawyer.

It is the sushi memo, and here is its story.

Read The Rest Scale: 4.5 out of 5.

10/22/2003 06:11:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE WAL-MARTIZATION OF AMERICA, unions, and forcing people into dead-end, low-paying jobs.
Wal-Mart has already helped push more than two dozen national supermarket chains into bankruptcy over the past decade. That list includes names like Grand Union; Bruno's, once Alabama's largest supermarket chain; and Homeland Stores, formerly Oklahoma's largest. And unionized supermarket workers fear that Wal-Mart's invasion will oust them from the middle class by pulling down their wages and benefits, which, taken together, are more than 50 percent higher than those of Wal-Mart workers. At Wal-Mart, the average wage is about $8.50 an hour, compared with $13 at unionized supermarkets.


Eager to stay competitive against Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Vons (owned by Safeway) and Ralphs (owned by Kroger) have demanded a two-year wage freeze for current workers, a lower pay scale for new hires and greater employee contributions for health coverage. Those employees now pay no health insurance premiums, while Wal-Mart employees often must pay premiums of $200 a month and deductibles of up to $1,000 a year, if they qualify.


It is hard to underestimate the power of Wal-Mart. It has 1.4 million employees and had $245 billion in revenues last year, equaling 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product. Each week 138 million shoppers visit Wal-Mart's 4,750 stores. Last year, 82 percent of American households bought at least one item there.

Wal-Mart sells 32 percent of the nation's disposable diapers, and it is the largest customer for Walt Disney and Procter & Gamble. It has singlehandedly persuaded music companies to issue sanitized versions of CD's. Its 1,397 supercenters account for 19 percent of the nation's grocery sales, making it the largest grocery retailer. With Wal-Mart planning 1,000 more supercenters in the next five years, Retail Forward, a consulting firm, estimates that Wal-Mart's grocery and drug sales will double to $162 billion, giving it 35 percent of the domestic food market and 25 percent of the drug market.


Another big factor is Wal-Mart's relatively low wages. Its sales clerks average about $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year, while the poverty line for a family of three is $15,060. In California, the unionized stockers and clerks average $17.90 an hour after two years on the job. Mr. Flickinger said wages and benefits for Wal-Mart's full-time workers average $10 to $14 per hour less than for unionized supermarket workers.


A big savings for Wal-Mart comes in health care, where Wal-Mart pays 30 percent less for coverage for each insured worker than the industry average. An estimated 40 percent of employees are not covered by its health plan because many cannot afford the premiums or have not worked at Wal-Mart long enough to qualify.

"What this means is, if I'm a Wal-Mart employee and I hurt my hand and go to the emergency room, who's going to pay for it? The taxpayer is," said Mr. Brown, the supermarket executive. "Wal-Mart's fringe benefits are being paid by taxpayers."

Wal-Mart officials say that their expansion will be a boon for California consumers and that their wages and benefits are competitive. Why else, they ask, would 600,000 workers take jobs at Wal-Mart each year?

Desperation, of course. Because they can't find anything better in range of where they live. Gotta love that spin from Wal-Mart, though. Why, we're providing a public service to 600,000 workers!

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5.

10/22/2003 05:45:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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