Thursday May 29, 2003
Via Atrios, the news that a provision was taken out of the Bush tax cut bill, with the result that families earning around the minimum-wage level can no longer claim the child credit. From the NYTimes:
But after studying the bill approved on Friday, liberal and child advocacy groups discovered that a different group of families would also not benefit from the $400 increase — families who make just above the minimum wage.
Because of the formula for calculating the credit, most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, says those families include 11.9 million children, or one of every six children under 17.
Between this "feature", and the fact that Bush wanted no money to shore up the states' budgets, and it's pretty clear what result he wanted from this taxcut.
Wednesday May 28, 2003
David Broder: officially dense
George Bush has not spent so much of his life in Washington that he should have forgotten where most Americans live -- and how they respond.
No, but Bush has spent enough of his life ensconced in the armpit of high society that he never learned to give a rat's ass where or how most Americans live. And how they respond? Broder really doesn't get it. Our response is inconsequential, David, and you and your whore friends have nurtured this situation where opposition to The Annointed One is tantamount to treason. Thanks a lot for your reasoned inquiries into the true nature and plans of this fetid cadre of radical Rightists.
Tuesday May 27, 2003
I mentioned yesterday about the financial crisis that the Republicans are bringing about by their increased defense spending and illogical tax cuts. This is the second or third time now where Paul Krugman is musing on a topic rattling around in my brain as well, and as usual, he does it a hell of a lot better. Here's an extended excerpt from his opinion piece in today's NYTimes:
It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.
Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)
Here's one way to look at the situation: Although you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric, federal taxes are already historically low as a share of G.D.P. Once the new round of cuts takes effect, federal taxes will be lower than their average during the Eisenhower administration. How, then, can the government pay for Medicare and Medicaid — which didn't exist in the 1950's — and Social Security, which will become far more expensive as the population ages? (Defense spending has fallen compared with the economy, but not that much, and it's on the rise again.)
The answer is that it can't. The government can borrow to make up the difference as long as investors remain in denial, unable to believe that the world's only superpower is turning into a banana republic. But at some point bond markets will balk — they won't lend money to a government, even that of the United States, if that government's debt is growing faster than its revenues and there is no plausible story about how the budget will eventually come under control.
At that point, either taxes will go up again, or programs that have become fundamental to the American way of life will be gutted. We can be sure that the right will do whatever it takes to preserve the Bush tax cuts — right now the administration is even skimping on homeland security to save a few dollars here and there. But balancing the books without tax increases will require deep cuts where the money is: that is, in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
He asks "How can this be happening?" The answer is simple. America has turned a corner. The Rightists have used fear and patriotic fervor as a cudgel to beat back opposition, and have pushed forward with a plan so radical and far-reaching as to set the course for the world for the next 50 years or more. Through their actions they are promoting the massive corporatization of all aspects of our civil society; they are pushing for a radical downsizing of the scope of government; their foreign policy of diplomacy and regime change has all the subtlety and care of a kid performing backyard surgery on a frog; they are setting our allies (of economy and temperment) against us; they are fostering a climate of hatred, divisiveness and distrust here at home; they have come into control of the news media, and are using it daily as a propaganda tool (Liberal media? Why no complaints from the conservative crowd regarding the FCC's new easing of ownership restrictions? Why is there little comment at all in the news media itself?) and they are engaging in actions ever more restrictive and invasive in what can only be described as policing of private thoughts.
Each of these little actions are themselves cause for alarm. But when you pull back and see them in context, juxtaposed, it's horrifying.
Monday May 26, 2003
Conflict to the Rightists is like Lays Potato Chips: they can't stop at just one. Or two.
Sadly, it seems that some sort of action with Iran now is an inevitability. Why, do you ask? Because 1) we have the soldiers in Iraq, nevermind the ongoing issue of peacekeeping there, 2) there's still some momentum built up from the Iraq conflict; the depleted uranium shells haven't yet cooled in the sands around Baghdad, 3) Bush's poll numbers are slipping and 4) Syria wasn't easy enough.
My fear is the same as it was with the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the whole clan, none seem concerned with the aftermath of conflict. Their interest lies only up to the point where the fighting ceases, and then their interest wanes (so far as to even forget money for reconstruction in Afghanistan in a budget proposal).
We've done nothing to secure the area outside of Kabul; drug trafficking is on the rise, bringing instability to neighboring countries; oppression of women is rearing its head again. Afghanistan is a pot that will soon boil over, but our government has its sights set elsewhere.
And not on Iraq. The fact that the administration is flirting with military action (covert or otherwise) in Iran as the smouldering ruins of Iraq still cool is galling. That they are considering action given the many other serious issues we are confronting makes it supremely depressing. That they're considering it based on intelligence reports of Al-Quaeda cells in Iran is damn near criminal, considering their track record of intelligence regarding Iraq and WMDs.
But it astounds me that they are openly talking about supporting and encouraging a popular uprising in Iran. This seems to me the height of folly, and could lead to a brutal crackdown under the rubric of stemming American imperialist pretensions. And according to a former member of Bush's national security council, the military strategy behind a move on Iran seems to be based on a faulty premise:
Flynt Leverett, a former middle east specialist in President Bush's national security council, said the move towards regime change as a basis for Iran policy was built on a false assumption.
"It's built on the belief that Tehran is a house of cards waiting to be pushed over and if the US is smart enough, it could push the house of cards over, and I think this is not a very prudent way to proceed."
I don't think issues like this are even a concern of the Bush administration any more. The point isn't security, stability, righteousness, etc. It's conflict for conflict's sake. More conflict is the foundation for increases in the defense budget. Increases in the defense budget, coupled with absurd tax cuts, are used to push through cuts in domestic programs, leading of course to a downsizing of government and a dismantling of the social contract. More conflict is also the basis for their divisive politics that brands all questioning of priorities as unpatriotic and treasonous, making it impossible to form a vigorous opposition.
Now the question becomes, what's next after Iran?
(The links in this post found via this interesting article by Bob Harris at ThisModernWorld.)
Apparently a family isn't getting straight answers regarding the circumstances surrounding their son's death in Iraq.
Tristan Aitken was killed in an ambush April 5 near Baghdad International Airport. That's what the Aitkens were told by the casualty officers who appeared at their door in the early morning of April 5. But they've received conflicting information in recent weeks, and say they need answers before they can move forward with their lives.
The Aitkens have yet to place an obituary in any newspaper because they are no longer certain their son died April 5. According to the Army, Tristan Aitken was riding in the front of a supply convoy when the attack occurred.
They spoke to the driver who was in the Tristan Aitken's vehicle when a rocket-propelled grenade struck it. The driver told them the attack occurred three days earlier than they had thought.
They want to know how their son died, what duties he was performing at the time, and whether he suffered. They're curious as to what other honors he is due in addition to his current collection of medals and awards.
Ruth Aitken e-mailed a request for information to the Army under the Freedom of Information Act but received no response.
Friday May 23, 2003
More on the Texas debacle
Josh Marshall is keeping up with the debacle resulting from the Texas Democrat dash over the state line.
Yesterday, in testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Tom Ridge again declined to release the full transcripts of the taped conversations between his agency (DHS) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) because the tapes were the subject of a "potentially a criminal investigation."
Now it turns out that the information the DPS used to contact the Department of Homeland Security came directly from DeLay's office. Let's go to the story in Friday's Houston Chronicle ...
"U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.
"DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney's airplane."
Via Counterspin Central: Tom Tancredo proves once again that the Right just doesn't understand how out-of-touch their philosophy is. When it manifests itself at press conferences, for example, the result goes something like this:
"I call it anti-Hispanic. You can quote me on that," said Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. Hinojosa...
The Mexican Embassy also jumped into the fray, issuing a statement that decried what an official termed "little respect" by Tancredo in his use of Fox's image.
"It is lamentable and reprehensible that a member of Congress would insist on resorting to these types of attitudes to make an argument with which we certainly disagree..."
Tancredo expressed surprise at the criticism...
Read the article at the LATimes to find out what Tancredo did.
Thursday May 22, 2003
Every time I read a new Bushism, a few braincells die.
All up and down the different aspects of our society, we had meaningful discussions. Not only in the Cabinet Room, but prior to this and after this day, our secretaries, respective secretaries, will continue to interact to create the conditions necessary for prosperity to reign."—Washington, D.C., May 19, 2003
Big Hats and Loathing in Las Vegas
Looks like Bush's Dumbass Army is still holding grudges: "Dixie Chicks Booed, Snubbed at Country Music Show"
Former country music darlings the Dixie Chicks are still paying a price for criticizing the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
The trio was snubbed at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Wednesday while audience members booed the very mention of the absent group's name.
The Texas musicians have been on the defensive since March, when singer Natalie Maines. Several radio stations pulled the chart-topping group's songs, and sales of their acclaimed new album slipped.
Instead of showing up at the glitzy Las Vegas ceremony, the three-time nominees performed a song live via satellite from Austin, Texas. They received a "pretty big negative response," the show's host, Reba McEntire (news), told reporters backstage afterward.
Later during the ceremony, presenter Vince Gill (news) jokingly mumbled their names when listing the contenders for entertainer of the year.
Gill, who has said people should forgive the group, said backstage that the atmosphere "wasn't near as volatile" as it was during the Flameworthy Music Awards in Nashville last month.
And Toby Keith is entertainer of the year! Man, country music must certainly be at its pinnacle.
Wednesday May 21, 2003
One of the most unequal wars in the history of modern warfare. So says Thomas Friedman in an editorial in today's NYTimes. But the Bush-baby was a victorious, honorable military leader: we have the flight-suit photos to prove it! Poll Americans and I would bet that 50% believe that Bush actually flew sorties over Baghdad.
One day before Democrats ended their boycott of the Texas House last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all records and photos gathered in the search for them, documents obtained Tuesday show.
A one-sentence order sent by e-mail on the morning of May 14 was apparently carried out, a DPS spokesman said Tuesday. The revelation comes as federal authorities are investigating how a division of the federal Homeland Security Department was dragged into the hunt for the missing Democrats - at the request of the state police agency.
Addressed to "Captains," the order said: "Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept. Any questions please contact me."
It was signed by the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, L.C. "Tony" Marshall.
Tuesday May 20, 2003
Thoughts on Matrix: Reloaded
Possible spoilers here, so read at your own risk.
The effects were not as bad in the theater as they appeared in the trailer (with the notable exception of the Agent jumping onto the car hood in the freeway chase scene, which was still horrible). I assume this has to do with the difference between the color range and color depth differences between film projection and CRT screens, but I'm not sure. In any case the effects were more seamless than I expected.
That said, The Matrix: Reloaded is a much more conventional movie than the original, and it seems (with some exceptions) to be geared to a very mainstream audience. The soundtrack is very standard fare, so much so that it reminded me of excessive John Williams scoring. But I got over it.
When the movie does its science fiction bit, it does it very well, if excessively flowery. The scenes with the Merovingian and with the Architect propel the story forward, yet their lines are almost too densely packed with information, and delivered too quickly for the impact of what they're saying to sink in.
The action scenes lack an impact, and I was at at a loss to understand why. I think there are a number of reasons, the most obvious being the lack of novelty. Although the scenes stretch the super-human nature of the fight sequences even further than the first movie, they rarely seem to pack the emotional punch of the original film. Add to that the fact that they pared down the requisit cast to bare minimum by killing off most of the main characters in the first movie; it was never in doubt that the remaining three would survive through this film.
But beyond that obvious issues, there's one thing lacking from the second film that I wish they had kept in -- the excessive use of particle effects both real and CGI. From the lobby gunfight to Trinity crashing full-force into the side of a skyscraper, to subtle effects like Morpheus's feet slamming onto a waterlogged floor, the first movie had an abundance of particle effects which greatly added to the film's over-the-top presentation. What would the lobby gunfight have been if the walls and pillars around the protagonists weren't spewing concrete debris like confetti? Particle effects helped to build volume on the sceen and punctuate impacts; they are, with one or two exceptions, completely lacking in this film. Maybe the scene with Neo vs. multiple Agent Smiths could be thought of as a use of macro particles, but corny sound effects (bowling pins? really?) robbed it of import.
SPOILER: On a positive note, the undercutting of the saviour mythos was a positive step, and it took on a decidedly Buddhist cast. Neo has his revelation, and undergoes a trial by fire only to realize that in the end he's not supernatural, and he now has to re-engage with the world around him. But what was this last twist? Is another subversion planned? I'd bet on it.
All in all, I liked Reloaded, if only for what it sets up for the last film in the series. With more attention to the story and less to the now-redundant action sequences, Revolutions could be a winner.
Back in summer session. Later I hope to have my thoughts on Matrix: Reloaded up. Quick summary: effects are better on film than on a CRT. But the movie had other problems. In the end, I still liked it, but...
Monday May 19, 2003
Ari Fleischer, liar and intimidator, to step down
Here's the news from the NYTimes.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the public face of the Bush administration through two wars and a terrorist attack, said Monday he will resign in July to enter the private sector. His replacement will likely be deputy press secretary Scott McLellan.
Finally, some fault-finding on the brain-dead postwar plan:
A month before the war began in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials said their plan for winning the peace was built upon the swift provision of basic services that would "immediately" make the Iraqi people feel they were better off than they had been under the government of Saddam Hussein.
Five weeks after the war ended, the administration is still struggling to accomplish that goal. It has failed to establish law and order on the streets and has achieved only mixed results in restoring electricity, water, sanitation and other essential needs.
In interviews here and in Washington, and in testimony on Capitol Hill, military officers, other administration officials and defense experts said the Pentagon ignored lessons from a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and Afghanistan.
It also badly underestimated the potential for looting and lawlessness after the collapse of the Iraqi government, lacking forces capable of securing the streets of Baghdad in the transition from combat to postwar reconstruction.
But now Bremer is on the scene! And pretty soon, Iraq will have an incarceration rate rivalled only by the US and China! And now he's banning 15,000-30,000 competent Baath party members from holding government jobs. Were they all vicious, ruthless war-criminals? Certainly not. I guess they should just be grateful that Bremer didn't lock 'em up, too.
Some are blaming Rumsfeld for the problem:
"It's very important that you built this thing small," one senior Defense official with extensive peacekeeping experience said. "It validates Rumsfeld's view of the future."
Unfortunately, there's very little of Rumsfeld's view of the future, apart from taking a few armored divisions and running roughshold over third-world dictatorships and leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
In February, an official from the U.S. Institute of Peace briefed the Defense Policy Board, an influential advisory panel, on a $628 million proposal, developed by the institute and based on peacekeeping experiences in Kosovo. It called for bringing 6,000 civilian police officers and 200 lawyers, judges, court administrators and corrections officers into Iraq as soon as the fighting stopped.
But the Pentagon had no plan for civilian policing assistance in place, and almost no military police on hand, when the fighting stopped in early April.
Now Rumsfeld is saying, "no problem - our peacekeeping forces are on the way!" Yet he comes up short compared to previous peacekeeping missions: 60,000 troops in Bosnia protecting 4,000,000; 40,000 for 2 million in Kosovo. Rumsfeld is proposing 160,000 to maintain order amongst 23 million. Sounds like peacekeeping on the cheap.
Sounds like the Iraqis are beginning to think so, too.
Sunday May 18, 2003
"Well, Bart, we learned that war is not the answer."
"Except to all of America's problems."
This doesn't sound good: "Iraqi troops say U.S. owes them back pay
Bitter soldiers threaten attacks on American forces, sabotage"
I've finally updated the blogroll in the left nav, adding the sites that I mentioned a few days ago, and I've also added a link to TestPattern.org (a friend of mine is a contributing editor). Be sure to check it out! Recent pieces there include the Bush/Bin Laden connection and how America is becoming like Texas (not a good thing).
Friday May 16, 2003
Josh Marshall is all over the lies of Tom DeLay and the Texas Republicans regarding their use of the Homeland Security Department to track down the wayward Democrats. Here's a classic:
And what about Tom DeLay? The Dallas Morning News article quotes DeLay aids saying that there was "no contact between his office and the Homeland Security Department or the FBI." But a DeLay aide told the Washington Post that the Majority Leader "did pass along to the Justice Department Craddick's inquiry on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt."
Here's the bit from the Washington Post article that he references:
DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said DeLay did not seek federal help in forcing the Democrats back to Austin. DeLay did pass along to the Justice Department Craddick's inquiry on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt, Grella said.
We didn't seek federal help, but we did...
Josh is turning up the heat. Will DeLay fall like Lott? Let's sure as Hell hope so. But I'm not placing any wagers on it.
Thursday May 15, 2003
Just saw this bit from the WSJ quoted in a Smirking Chimp forum:
from The Wall Street Journal
May 15, 2003
April wholesale prices registered the biggest decline in at least 56 years, highlighting the Federal Reserve's concern about the economy facing a deflation risk for the first time since the Depression. The producer-price index declined 1.9% last month. The decline partly reflected falling oil prices. But excluding volatile food and energy items the index dropped 0.9% -- the biggest drop in a decade.
Via Talking Points Memo...
Apparently a branch of the new Homeland Security Department was used to track down the Texas Democrats who are now ensconced in an Oklahoma hotel. This was in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
One federal agency that became involved early on was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. -- which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.
The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.
The location of Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore.
Outrage, anyone? Outrage? Oh, nevermind...
A good column from Bob Herbert today in the NYTimes:
This government, I thought, is losing its mind. I went to the computer and began to put this column together. The president, the secretary of defense, military authorities and anyone else in a position of command should know that a policy of shooting looters on sight is wrong, and if it was being considered it needed to be stopped in its tracks.
Stay tuned. This controversy is one more screaming example of the need for the U.N. to be handed the major responsibility for administering Iraq. This is not an appropriate mission for the U.S., and we're making a hash of it already.
Americans should take a long, honest look in the mirror. We'll find that it's impossible to look good in the ugly garb of a colonial power.
Are there any others out there who think that Saddam caving so quickly might have actually been a tactic? That the lack of weapons of mass destruction evidence in Iraq might actually be a strategic move?
My guess is that Saddam was clear that if Americans came to Baghdad, his army would be in no shape to repel them. So he crafted the best end-game solution for a dictator who is about to be deposed -- destroy evidence of the WMDs that brought legitimacy to the conflict, grab all the money you can, escape, and then wait. Remaining alive and free with one billion dollars of spending money doesn't seem like such a bad position to be in, given the options.
He might not have to wait behind the scenes for very long, because the Bush administration is doing such a bang-up job of bungling the post-war situation there that they might bring about their own downfall without any encouragement from Saddam.
It's now easy for me to write off Donald Luskin, as his utter mischaracterization of Paul Krugman's recent editorial shows that he's just another shrill shill for the Rightists.
I'm finally getting around to updating my link list in the left navbar. Here are some sites to check out:
She Sells Sanctuary - another person who loves solitude, and loves cats. (Now, if I only HAD cats, I'd be happy as a clam). Also a good Australian perspective for world events.
The Paul Krugman page - Paul occasionally does follow-up to his opinion pieces here.
Wednesday May 14, 2003
Pregnancy Gulags? Fetus monitoring devices?
Remember my ravings that the logical outcome of the new Rightist tactic of calling a fetus a citizen would be that pregnant women would become wards of the state?
Gov. Jeb Bush ordered state lawyers Tuesday to seek the appointment of a guardian for the 6-month-old fetus of a mentally disabled woman who was raped, overruling child welfare officials who said such an appointment would be illegal.
A Department of Children & Families attorney, citing earlier court decisions on abortion, had told a newspaper that the state only would seek to have a guardian appointed for the woman during a Wednesday court hearing, waiting until birth to seek a guardian for the baby.
"Given the facts of this case, it is entirely appropriate that an advocate be appointed to represent the unborn child's best interests in all decisions,'' Bush said Tuesday in a statement.
The 22-year-old woman has no family, is too disabled to speak and cannot help police find who raped her. She has lived at a small southwest Orlando facility for 19 years.
DCF officials filed an emergency petition last week, asking an Orange County circuit judge to assign protective supervision for the woman, continue her around-the-clock care and determine her current health status -- plus appoint guardians for her and the child, although no one has publicly suggested that an abortion be performed.
Even though the rape victim is 22 years old, mentally disabled but competent (no one moved to declare her incompetent at her 18th birthday), Jeb has decided that he has to put the best interests of the fetus above the best interests of this woman!
You'd think that the Rightists would want to be a bit more subtle. Maybe starting out with something that (to their minds) is a bit more cut-and-dried. But they've decided to declare by their actions that not only should abortion be illegal, it should be illegal even if the woman is raped and mentally disabled. And they are doing this by the most despicable (and to my mind fascist) route of making the woman's unborn child a ward of the state!
What they're saying is this, folks, and don't mistake it: If you're pregnant (even if by rape), the state has a vested right in protecting the cells growing in your womb, and any harm against these cells is a crime against the state. If this manages to make it through the Supreme Court (and damn, let's hope it gets shot down a lot sooner than that!), what we're going to have next is registration of every pregnancy with the state, a government-approved physical regimen and diet plan for expectant mothers, weekly monitoring of the status of the pregnancy (or a fetal heart monitor), and murder charges against women who have abortions. Why not put them all into protective custody until they've given birth? In the case of this woman, that's essentially what they're asking for!
This is sick, outrageous, detrimental to the standing of women in America, a perversion of law and human rights. It subjugates women to state control in order to further a fundamentalist agenda. But it's just the first salvo. What's coming next should have us all very very afraid.
Tuesday May 13, 2003
Some catchup news links
Simultaneous suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia left 29 people dead, including 7 Americans.
A great post by Brad DeLong on the Bush administration's incompetence.
Two Washington Post articles, here and here, on the anarchy in Iraq. "The doctor cocks a finger toward her head, as if it's a gun. 'It's like the Texas you see in the movies.' She means the Wild West."
More coming later...
Sunday May 11, 2003
One of the few bright spots in my life recently was flipping through the channels and finding a Panjabi MC video playing on MTV. I've been a big fan of the Middle East/India/Dance/Techno mix for years - Cheb Khaled, Cheb Mami, Natacha Atlas -- I never waded much further into the scene, but the music is amazing.
I heard Panjabi MC for the first time recently when I checked out a Punjab dance party on campus. I was told by my friend Luisa that the music has been very popular in Italy (her home country) for quite a while now. Then a week later I see the video appear on MTV (click that link to check out the video for yourself - RealPlayer required). It has a great style reminiscent of Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video. Let's hope that this is a portent of good things to come. We need to fight against the rising tide of parochialism and international scapegoating that is engulfing the nation. Will it be the kids that do it for us? Will they take the ball and run with it? Will they open themselves to the world while the older generations shut themselves in and duct-tape the windows? Or will they ignore it and sink back into the urban despair of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock?
I'm worried about the Matrix: Reloaded. And the reason I'm worried is that it seems the Wachowski's have gambled and aimed at the more visually illiterate among us, who can look at a scene of computer generated characters and not tell them from real. I make this assumption because the scenes from the latest Matrix trailer abound with computer-generated actors that to this video-game-trained eye look as out of place as Dubya strutting on an aircraft carrier.
Why is this bothersome? Because the main ingredient of the Matrix that drew people in was not simply the "Bullet-time" camera, but an investment in the characters and the sight of the characters bending over backwards avoiding bullets and fists while maneuvering through the Matrix. To me, no scene was more effective than the dojo sequence, where Neo fights Morpheus in a monastery, and we see Keanu doing vertical runs and jumping triple kicks and punching faster than humanly possible. It makes one feel super-empowered just remembering it. Because in that moment we could feel that maybe we could extend beyond the limits of our world, play with gravity, move faster and jump higher. And it also challenged us to not take for granted what we normally take for granted - the solidness of things, the laws of physics, the character of people.
I fear that all of this may be lost when the Matrix turns into, literally, a computer simulation. The point of the Matrix was that it was real to the people in it, as real as our experience. But when I see an obvious CG character jumping onto and crushing a car in a freeway chase sequence in the Matrix trailer, I an ripped out of this "otherworldly" sense of the real.
The same thing happened to a lesser extent when watching the Fellowship of the Ring. No matter how hard I tried, my mind couldn't accept the skin of Gollum as real. It didn't move like real skin did, and it was a constant irritant, tickling at the back of my mind. However Andy Serkis's acting of the character allowed me to overcome this niggling problem, and for the most part the rest of the special effects were astounding. It was no small help that the actors were able to elicit such a sympathetic response: I was able to feel the dread at seeing the legions from Mount Doom gathering in front of Helm's Deep, even though they were all CG.
But the Matrix might just be undone by the fact that its cyber-real quality was a keystone of the narrative. It will be interesting to see if they pull it off. I'll hold out hope, and give a verdict after I see the finished product.
Yesterday I came across an editorial that I had torn out of the Wall Street Journal months ago. It's small, and worth quoting in its entirety:
Is This A Great Country?
Few Americans see a rich person when they look in the mirror, but nearly a third see a rich person when they look into a crystal ball. That's the striking result of a Gallup poll that goes a long way to explaining why class war fails as an American political strategy.
The recent survey of 1,000 adults found that only 2% of Americans consider themselves rich today, but a whopping 31% expect to become rich someday. Understandably, young people are most optimistic, with 51% of those age 18 to 29 anticipating the life of a sort-of Rockefeller. But the hopefulness extends across all age groups, with even 22% of those between ages 50 and 64 figuring they'll hit the jackpot someday, though only 4% of them are rich today.
Even more revealing is the fact that many low-income people expect a fat future payday. The Gallup survey found that more than on in every five persons earning less than $30,000 a year has that belief, with the share climbing to 38% for those earning between $50,000 and $74,000, all the way to 51% for those who make more than $75,000.
We suppose this could all be chalked up as the triumph of hope over experience (especially for the 8% of those over age 65 who still think they'll get rich.) But we think these expectations have more to do with the broad American belief that our society offers opportunity and upward mobility.
Class-war rhetoric may work in the more socially and financially immobile cultures of Europe, but Americans understand that people make and lose fortunes here all the time. Americans vote not on their envy but their aspirations -- something that maybe even our politicians will figure out someday.
Not only do Americans "vote on their aspirations," but we subsume most everything else in pursuit of our gilded dreams. We have effectively divorced ourselves from the processes of government, from any say in how we're treated in the workplace, from any voice at all in our collective destiny, from a role in the world apart from that of hegemon. And now that we've injected a heavy dose of fear into our already greed-besotted psyches, we've entered a period of every rugged individualist for himself. Unfortunately, this attitude, once locked safely behind our borders, has spilled out into the world following the path of least resistance: first Afghanistan, then Iraq, next ...?
Friday May 09, 2003
More changes to the blog. Adding a "fontsize" bar to the blog, for bumping up the main content size. Errors expected.
Thanks to this article at A List Apart for the style-sheet switching code.
It seems that nary a day goes by that I don't find myself disappointed in the behavior of our leaders and the American people. Today is the exception. Because I think I've reached the point where I no longer feel disappointment; instead I feel resignation.
In Paul Krugman's column today we find that the Rightists are using the same bait-and-switch tactic with this tax cut that they used with the 2001 tax cut. That this maneuver hasn't resulted in an outcry is stunning.
So how does the House bill, which is broadly similar to the administration's proposal, stay within that $550 billion limit? Sunset clauses! Many of the provisions would supposedly expire in 2005, others in 2012. Otherwise, it's a bigger tax cut than the administration proposed. And the sunset clauses, like those in the 2001 tax cut, are clearly a mere gimmick: as soon as a tax cut becomes law, the administration will begin demanding that the whole thing be made permanent.
I fear I'm sounding redundant on this issue: accountability no longer applies here: the Right lives by a different set of rules. Maybe it's better to say that they live by the idea that the rules no longer apply. This is a new world, and the sooner we realize that and cede all control to them, the happier we'll all be.
But the Krugman article was just the kick in the teeth. The Nick Kristof article was the truncheon.
Most AIDS scientists are terrified these days. They describe witch hunts by neo-Puritans in and out of the Bush administration, and many are so nervous that in e-mail and research abstracts they avoid using words like "gays," "homosexuals," "anal sex" or "sex workers."
So scientists at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere are devising their own secret code. I won't give it away, but one term stands for "gay" or "homosexual," another for "anal sex" and so on.
"I would recommend avoiding all electronic communication to any N.I.H. office," one scientist warned in one of many e-mail notes buzzing among AIDS researchers. "Phone communication does not appear tapped at this time. Even so, I am advising staff to speak `in code' unless an N.I.H. staff member indicates you can speak freely. In short, assume you are living in Stalinist Russia when communicating with the United States government."
Scientists feel so oppressed by the fundamentalist uprising in our government that they have resorted to talking in CODE! Cripes! Yet Kristof goes on to praise the President's bait-and-switch program on AIDS in Africa, and seems to believe that Bush might somehow have a moderating influence. These oppressors are only behaving as they are because of the environment created by this fundamentalist President, yet according to Kristof he has to prove that he's "on the side of scientists, not the witch burners." Wanna wager on which side he ends up? After the next four years start, there'll be no doubt.
Finally comes the story of Katrina Leung, Republican party fundraiser and activist, FBI informant in the Chinese-fundraising faux-scandals that dogged Al Gore, and, we shouldn't leave out, CHINESE DOUBLE AGENT! Ms. Leung was indicted yesterday, charged with giving classified intelligence information to the PRC. Yet, as Josh Marshall points out, no mention is being made of the fact that she is an influential Republican activist. Check the news reports at ABC and CNN, for example. CBS News calls her a "political" activist. The New York Times makes no mention of her Republican activities. Here's more of Josh Marshall on this:
Now, one could go on about this and note that all the while that the FBI was investigating the Democrats, and all the while the Republicans were hyperventilating and milking the whole thing for political gain, one of the lead agents in the investigation was carrying on with a Republican fundraiser who also happened to be a PRC double-agent, probably helping to compromise and misdirect the investigation in various ways.
Republicans took some pretty iffy evidence about PRC-connected campaign donations to Democrats and spun it into a florid tale of perfidy, scandal, and treachery. In the late 1990s and into the 2000 campaign it became a standard line among Republicans and conservative commentators that President Clinton had sold nuclear secrets or missile secrets or in one way or another sold out the national security of the United States for campaign money. The whole thing, of course, was crap, the product of a conspiracy of the shameless and the stupid, the crudest and most country-shaming sort of political opportunism. And they partook in it happily.
So what now? On the one hand, Democrats should just set a higher standard, not stoop to the shamelessness of the opposing side. The problem, as I see it, is that this leads to a sort of unilateral disarmament in the domestic political contest within the United States. Republicans have their standard of shameless demagoguing of this issue and do Democrats no little damage in so doing. Then Democrats, if they so choose, adopt a different standard and the GOP gets a pass.
How long are we going to pretend that the face of politics in this country has changed for good, and the Republicans are now playing an entirely different game. And they're winning. (Surprise! They're the only ones on the field!)
Thursday May 08, 2003
I am a leader. I have created many of the tools and formats that they use, far more than anyone else on the lists. It's kind of like a Jack Nicholson movie. I gave them tools that they love and use. They hate me for it.
Has nothing to do, I'm sure, with the fact that he's an insufferable asshole.
Of course not.
Wednesday May 07, 2003
Every time a reporter sneaks in two questions at a Bush press conference, Bush's face immediately goes dark, and he can't avoid commenting on the fact that the reporter "violated a rule". For someone who has taken advantage of the system his entire life, to his enormous benefit, it's telling that he holds any inconsequential attempt to gain an advantage on him as an offense worthy of comment.
According to Kranz, Erickson and Regier have been circulating a brochure to potential D.C.-based donors explaining how they “propose to destroy Daschle’s credibility in his home state through humor.”
The key to success, they argue, is having a sponsoring group that is “putatively based in South Dakota.” And, the brochure assures them, “the ‘Rushmore Policy Council’ was designed precisely to meet these criteria.” In other words, the key to nailing Daschle as a tool of out-of-state interests who lacks credibility is to run the operation through a front organization that hides its own connections to out-of-state interests.
The whole concept seemed so clever that I could scarcely believe it when Erickson told me Monday that he didn’t have anything to do with the Daschle Accountability Project. But didn’t Rushmore and his business share an address? It’s a “big building” with lots of tenants, he told me. It was only after I pointed out that they were actually both located in Suite 108 that he admitted that he was one of Rushmore’s “supporters.”
Here's Dave Hyatt on CSS:
In many ways, I think the old-school way of building Web pages is actually simpler to understand. Mastering CSS is like making the leap from procedural to functional programming. It's like forcing a guy who has only coded in C his whole life to suddenly write programs using Standard ML. Sure, it's cool, but it's a heck of a lot harder to understand.
So you have this language that leads to much simpler markup but that is much harder to understand. Now add to this complexity by throwing in a pile of buggy browsers. In addition to trying to understand how CSS is supposed to work, you have the added burden of not being sure which browser is even rendering your page correctly anyway. Then you have to figure out some way of working around all of the bugs in the various browsers.
It's also trivially easy to run into ambiguous areas of the CSS specification that still haven't even been cleared up. There's no real agreement what constitutes overflow for example, or how z-index is even supposed to work. Where floats should position themselves is not 100% clear.
So, buggy, yes. Really complex, yes. Moreover, there are layouts that CSS in its current form simply cannot do. Of course, if you think about it, the fact that people want to keep adding to the layout capabilities of CSS is a testament to the success of CSS.
Unless things change relatively soon, evolution is going to start weeding out people based on how long they can sit in front of a computer screen reading long screeds in 5 pt text.
I'll be roadkill on the evolution superhighway.
Tuesday May 06, 2003
Just a very brief note about CSS. I spent the entire weekend trying to get this layout to come together without tables. In the end, this template, with a good deal of tweaking, went on to become the final layout. To pull it off (3 columns, footer spanning all three), I had to live with the assumption that the content column would always be the longest. The layout breaks otherwise. And it includes a hack so that the layout wouldn't break in IE6. But in the end it works. I had to forget about IE5, and NN4.x and below, but it works.
To me, this seems like web development from 7 years ago. And it seems clear that Microsoft is now the foot-dragger. Until MS steps up to the plate and addresses their CSS implementation in IE/Win, they are now the stumbling block to standards compliant development. Every time I would try an option to get the layout to work properly, I would see it work in Mozilla only to have it fail when tried in IE.
But it's not all MS's problem. CSS needs to be a lot easier than this. Creating a 3 column layout shouldn't involve having to search the Internet to find a hack from someone who has done the heavy lifting first. Layout shouldn't be heavy lifting. Until it is easy (at least as easy as table-based layout), I don't think that CSS layout can catch on.
Monday May 05, 2003
This blog is going to be in flux for the next hour or so, as I change to a different layout.
Update: Nevermind. It's gonna take more time than I have tonight. I'll try again tomorrow.
Update 2: The new design is up. Some tweaking to be done, especially around the end of the page, but the design works in IE6 (barely) and Mozilla (like a charm). I need to do a final examination of the site on other platforms, but my initial browsercam.com test looked good. IE5 is going to suck. Upgrade or view with another browser. Pre-IE5 browsers and NN4.x, you're pretty much out of luck. There seem to be some errors in the navbar using Safari (according to browsercam), but don't hold it against the developers - Dave Hyatt's working on it, so I'm sure things will be worked out soon.
Next step is cleanup and standards compliance testing. Let me know if there are any problems.
How badly are our priorities skewed in Iraq? And how obvious is it that the Bush administration has been totally disingenuous? This headline and opening paragraph from an article at the Washington Post says it all:
Iraqi Nuclear Site Is Found Looted
U.S. Team Unable to Determine Whether Deadly Materials Are Missing
A specially trained Defense Department team, dispatched after a month of official indecision to survey a major Iraqi radioactive waste repository, today found the site heavily looted and said it was impossible to tell whether nuclear materials were missing.
The next paragraph drives the point home, to those of use who are unclear about our priorities(emphasis added):
The discovery at the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility was the second since the end of the war in which a known nuclear cache was plundered extensively enough that authorities could not rule out the possibility that deadly materials had been stolen. The survey, conducted by a U.S. Special Forces detachment and eight nuclear experts from a Pentagon office called the Direct Support Team, appeared to offer fresh evidence that the war has dispersed the country's most dangerous technologies beyond anyone's knowledge or control.
This is the lasting legacy of the Bush administration. A set of priorities so skewed that they can only be interpreted as malign neglect. The American economy; "Homeland" security; Afghanistan; North Korea; nuclear facilities, hospitals, and museums in Iraq; all are marginalized for furtherance of a radical agenda that has at its core the complete upheaval of the system of governance world-wide.
This unparalleled incompetence needs to be condemned and assailed with the same ferocity that the Republicans took to the war on Clinton's penis. Every day our world falls further into the hands of extremists, both here and abroad. The Bush administration has made it clear through their actions that they consider the ongoing fear and uncertainty (that they themselves have repeatedly encouraged) politically advantageous, and have little intention of actually performing their function of protecting the American people.
Wow - the invective being hurled at George Dubya Bush in this Slashdot forum is astounding. The forum is in response to this story in the Ottowa Citizen: "U.S. says Canada cares too much about liberties". A small quote:
The United States says the lack of funding for police and restrictive privacy legislation in Canada are frustrating probes of political extremists.
The comments in an annual report on international terrorism were the latest critical remarks from the U.S. apparently aimed at prodding Canada to bring its security measures in line.
The State Department report on global terrorism for 2002 suggests that while Canada has been helpful in the fight against terrorism, it doesn't spend enough on policing and places too much emphasis on civil liberties.
It says "some U.S. law enforcement officers have expressed concern" about Canadian privacy laws.
Want to get a glimpse of what the world thinks of our President? Start in that forum.
Saturday May 03, 2003
Apparently the fight for browser standards compliance is over now that the Web Standards Organization folks say it's over. Seems everything is just hunky dorey now that they've convinced the browser makers to make their products compliant.
But, as many of you may know, just because the Web Standards Project says something doesn't make it so. Here's a chunk from Ian Hickson's comments (at his site, most of these statements link to examples):
Now, I don't mean any offense to Microsoft, but in what world is MSIE 6.0 a standards supporting browser that doesn't give authors a difficult time when trying to write Web sites?
Maybe I am too optimistic, but when I ask for standards support, the idea is that you can write the page once and know that all UAs will follow the specs. Given the many discussions I see on css-discuss, it is quite clear that we are not there yet. Even given that IE6 is over 18 months old now, and so cannot be expected to support things like CSS2 Selectors -- let alone the CSS3 Selectors, support for which is already growing in many other UAs -- or advanced CSS2 features like fixed positioning, table layout, generated content, or the inherit keyword; even given that because it is so old in Internet terms it can't be expected to support newer standards like XHTML or MathML; even given that Microsoft have limited resources and so can't be expected to support things such as data: URIs or alternate stylesheets; even granted that some of its bugs were technically correct when it was released and have only become non-compliant after the spec was clarified; even given all that, it still has numerous layout-breaking and script-breaking bugs. Totally broken margin collapsing. Totally broken box model. Totally broken float wrapping. Broken CSS parser. Buggy CSS1 selector engine. Buggy white space handling. Poor support for the 'ex' unit. Totally broken inline box model. Broken 'text-decoration' support Utterly broken HTML <object> support. No support for the HTML <link> element. Broken HTML comment parsing. Broken relative URI support. Need I go on?
Friday May 02, 2003
Four parents of gay children had a fiery private exchange tonight with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The meeting did not go well, and Mr. Santorum, who has infuriated gays by likening homosexuality to incest and bigamy, left in a hurry, tripping over a chair, the parents said.
"What we tried to do in this meeting was reach him on a human level, and we found no humanity there," said Melina Waldo, a former constituent of Mr. Santorum who lives in Haddonfield, N.J. She said he was "condescending, belligerent, argumentative and arrogant."
Did you know that Chalabi and some of his backers in D.C. think that these guys should form the core of the new Iraqi army?
And have you heard about the firefight that erupted recently between American troops and these exiles?
And did you know that these same upstanding citizens are intimidating Iraqi civilians and looting abandoned homes, and that a number were caught robbing a bank?
It seems like members of Bush's inner circle are intent on installing a despot wannabe into power in Iraq. But he's our despot, no?
One would think that any reasonable person who originally backed Chalabi would reassess him in light of the bank fraud allegations and his despotic aspirations and take him out of play. It's a testament to the neocons' inability to self-critique that none of them are backing down from their support for him. But their administration of postwar Iraq is already shaky. Relying on Chalabi seems a recipe for disaster.
John McArthur, Harper's Magazine publisher, on the Bush administration's propaganda, and the media's tacit acceptance of it:
In MacArthur's opinion, little has changed during the latest Iraq war, prompting him to begin work on an updated edition of "Second Front." U.S. government public relations specialists are still concocting bogus stories to serve government interests, he says, and credulous journalists stand ready to scarf up the baloney.
"The concept of a self-governing American republic has been crippled by this propaganda," MacArthur said. "The whole idea that we can govern ourselves and have an intelligent debate, free of cant, free of disinformation, I think it's dead."
So, you may recall that the whole "flag on the statue" bit was completely contrived; the flag used was even the one that was flying outside the Pentagon on September 11th. There is a serious possibility that the US also carted in Iraqi exiles for the event. Yet here's the administration and military's take:
White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied the existence of any administration propaganda campaign and predicted the American public would reject such notions as ridiculous.
A Pentagon spokesman also denied high-level planning in the appearance of the American flag in Baghdad. "It sure looked spontaneous to me," said Marine Lt. Col. Mike Humm.
Notice that neither is a denial that the event was staged (although in fairness, it seems like the writer of this article didn't make clear that McClellan's response was directed at the question of the validity of the statue toppling scene). In any case, McClellan's response is so absurd as to be dismissed out of hand. And as for the Pentagon spokesman, apparently "looking" spontaneous is the same as being spontaneous.
This is me being surprised that they'd deny the setup of the scene. Seriously. Trust me. You believe me, don't you?
Thursday May 01, 2003
From the NYTimes, "Former Domestic Security Aides Switch to Lobbying"
When Tom Ridge arrived here after the Sept. 11 attacks and opened the White House Office of Homeland Security, the former Pennsylvania governor quickly surrounded himself with a group of trusted deputies, many of them drawn from the staff he assembled as governor.
But when Mr. Ridge was sworn in this year as the first secretary of homeland security, some of his inner circle did not follow. Instead, they emerged as lobbyists whose corporate clients want contracts from Mr. Ridge's multibillion-dollar agency.
Lobbying disclosure forms filed in Congress show that at least four of Mr. Ridge's senior deputies at the White House are now working as "homeland security" lobbyists, as is a chief of staff from his days as Pennsylvania governor.
The Homeland Security Department, with a budget of about $40 billion this year, and Mr. Ridge are obvious targets for an array of industries and their lobbyists in the capital.
"My one year is up, so I can lobby him and lobby the White House and lobby the Hill," said Rebecca L. Halkias, who was Mr. Ridge's legislative affairs director in the White House, referring to her former boss and to the one-year ban on contacts between former senior government officials and their colleagues.
Ms. Halkias, who also managed Mr. Ridge's Washington office when he was governor, is now a partner in a lobbying company, C2 Group, and Congressional filings show that her clients include Tyco Electronics, which would like to sell its wireless communications systems to government emergency response agencies.
"I'm not really comfortable talking about homeland security lobbying," Ms. Halkias said in a brief telephone interview, refusing to answer most questions. Asked if she was concerned about any conflict of interest in lobbying Mr. Ridge, she said, "This conversation is over," and hung up.
Can this please get just a hint of outrage? It's like the country is just slipping away.