Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Alive, but Busy.

Yep. Busy. Amongst other things, the joys of multicast sockets and bayesian statistics. Joy.

Maybe I should post here more versus comments in threads and forums. Or even better, start some wiki-like structure so when the umpteenth person describes former Iraqi General Georges Sada as "Saddam's closest adviser" and touting "the fact that he piloted 86 missions flying weapons of mass destruction to Syria" all of them "on directions from Saddam Hussein"... Or claiming that the Westboro Church protestors (Their slogan: "God hates fags") are somehow liberals for protesting at military funerals of posthumously-outed servicemen? (Hint: Which party is in favor of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage? Not Democrats...)

Debunking things just gets tiring. Some of them practically deserve form letters. Is there some sort of moderately left-of-center wiki for this stuff? Some sort of thing? I used to be idealistic--I'd just write a careful response and that would be that.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Enabling Terrorism?

I was just thinking about this on the bus. What makes terrorism effective? Clearly, the "terror", which is right there in it's name. Take the fear away from terrorism, and it's something else. Sabotage. Murder. Of course, we think of 9/11. The big terror event that will leap to the fore in such discussions, hopefully for years to come. (That is, I'm hopeful something worse doesn't come along for years.)

While tragic, it's not an issue of lives-lost, and statistics bear this out. In America, more people died in 2002 from choking on non-food objects than died from terror attacks in the last ten.

Financially... I'm not sure about direct financial losses, but I'd argue most of the losses are in the form of market behaviors, which leads to my next point:

Fear. It is the essence of terrorism. To act to spread fear, and to influence a country through that fear. I see some conservatives label others as "enablers" of terrorism. Often, this accusation boils down to not being willing to give up our rights in order to "protect" them with foreign-policy escapades. Or believing in rule-of-law. Objecting to the torture of prisoners. etc.

It's a loony accusation. So I have my own accusation, which is also a bit loony. I wouldn't want to straight-out advocate it, but here it is: Many of the war-hawks are also enablers. They enable terrorism... by spreading fear of terrorism, constantly trying to refresh that fear, enhancing it's main detrimental effect for their own ends. In the current UAE ports deal kerfluffle, it's interesting to see that this blade has two edges, and has rebounded against the Bush Administration.

A second, far less loony accusation, can be made in terms of what the war-hawks of today have done in the past. Training and arming Osama Bin Laden and his compatriots (as a force against the Russians) comes to mind. Or less terror-ish items, like giving Saddam Hussein biochemical weapon components, even after his alleged gassing of civilian Kurds. Installing a dictator into Iran, and trying to send him nuclear technology... But I digress.

Why can't they remember that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself"?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Where does a person begin?

... Probably not at Birth. I'm posting prompted by something I saw Firedoglake.

There's been a push by certain sectors of the "Religious Right" (read: Evangelicals, megachurches, mixes of politics, religion, and business) against abortion for quite a while. One of the major rifts in the debate is where life begins. Or, to be more precise, at what point we have a "person" deserving of legal protection by the government, and when that protection trumps the rights of the mother to control her own body and biology.

One of the more extreme views (but surprisingly common) is that once the sperm and the egg meet, you've got a person, and killing that person is like murder/manslaughter/homicide/etc. I really disagree with this viewpoint.

Here's something I posed to some Campus Republicans two months ago:
Through whatever circumstances, you are faced with a really shitty choice:

  • You can see two TV screens, one with a microscope's view of a hundred little post-conception cells on one video screen, and another of one newborn baby in a cradle.
  • You know neither personally.
  • You don't know where they are in the world.
  • You know nothing more about their circumstances.
  • You know you will never personally encounter any of them or experience external repercussions from your choice.

Now, for whatever reason, you must choose between them, and failing to choose means the death of the cells and the baby. What will you pick?

If the person undergoing this choice really believed the rhetoric, they would choose to save the hundred little cell bundles, correct? A hundred lives, compared to one? But I cannot see anyone seriously choosing the blastocysts or embryos over the baby.

So here's what I'm trying to get at: You express your real belief through choices. The rhetoric of the "un-born baby" at or closely after conception is hollow, because I cannot imagine any sane individual actually going through with the hypothetical situation presented and choosing to save the petri dish over saving the newborn.

None of them gave a real answer. It's a wildly improbable situation, but the rhetoric being used by the person-at-conception folks is so strong and clear: According to them, you save the cells. Period. Strangely, I haven't found any of them (yet?) who really want to give an answer to this question, even when their stated beliefs are so unambiguous. Probably because it shows how silly they are when actually applied.

So to any conservative readers (10% of zero readers total?): If you want to answer, choose. If you don't like the question because it's too vague, tell me why. That's why I put all those bullet points in about what you do and don't know about the situation.

P.S.: Experimenting with HaloScan comments instead of Blogger comments. No important comments were lost in the transition, needless to say.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Not Dead...


After March 27th I may be able to commit to posting more stuff here. Time-wise, I don't think I'll be a daily updater. Heaven knows I'm enough of a shut-in to manage it so long as I don't procrastinate on real-world projects.

I have a large three-month-long project starting in a few weeks, which I will just hint (ever so archly) as an original creation that may be marketable. It could also end up like unmarketable crap which I would be horrified to have in my digital portfolio, but that's all in the future. I'll try not to let it induce me to go on hiatus again.

Lastly, I re-enabled comments (not that there were any worth reading) but I enabled moderation as well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Indefinite Hiatus

When I started the blog, I underestimated how much work I have on my plate here. Plainly put, I don't think I have time to make updates as regularly as I ought to and have viewers. Additionally, I've now tried out blogger, and found it a little lacking for what I want. Maybe next time I'll dust off my ancient web-server and try a DIY solution. But for now it looks like I'll be busy finding and moving into a new place, doing paying work, and keeping occupied with some 3D programming. Farewell for now, my practically-zero viewers!

Okay, I lied. A little. Maybe second thoughts. Maybe a bout of insanity... No promises.

I hate to be someone who just reposts links and quotes, but I saw this on wiretapping contradictions from the Bush administration and it was too good to pass up. (But I really do need to do more on my research project instead of blogging.)

So, building on my previous post, here are the basics as I know them:

  • The Administration started these wiretaps before 9/11. In 2002, Senator DeWine (R-Ohio) introduced an amendment for the PATRIOT act.

  • That amendment would have significantly downgraded the amount of proof necessary for wiretapping non-US-Citizens under the FISA act, which established the FISA court.

  • In the process, the Department of Justice was asked to give an opinion. They said: "Nah, we're fine. The laws we've got are fine. We don't need to do this, and besides, it might not be constitutional."

  • In the end, the amendment was rejected by Congress.

Why is this important, you ask?

  • Congress rejected a much weaker version (because it was for non-citizens) of what Bush now claims they implicitly said he could do by saying: "Go get the 9/11 guys". So that argument is even weaker than it was before.

  • The Bush administration has recently been claiming that they had to do these wiretaps because the existing legal alternatives weren't good enough. But that contradicts what they said back in 2002.

One possible conclusion: Their spy program was discovered, so they're either lying to cover their asses, or they were lying back when it was secret. And it's not the kind of lying that can possibly be covered by the need for secrecy or anything like that. It's plain old contradictions about public policy.

The American Prospect has a neat summary showing that claims that Abramoff "directed his clients to donate Democrats" are on very shaky ground indeed.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Politics: Abramoff Scandal Update

In other news, it's gratifying to see that some of the counter-spin (as posted here and by other folks) is managing to penetrate the newspapers, at least. Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune) has this to say:

Unless you've been on the moon for a while, you probably have heard that Abramoff is a formerly well-connected Republican who has pleaded guilty to federal charges tied to his lobbying operations. Right-wing bloggers and others pounced on Dean and flailed away, since a number of Democratic senators and congressmen already have given Abramoff-associated money to charity. How, then, could Dean say otherwise? But I checked it out and, guess what? Dean was right. Although both Democrats and Republicans did, in fact, receive money from Abramoff's clients, only Republicans received personal donations from Abramoff himself.

If anything, the tribes are one of the true victims in the Abramoff saga. Investigators say Abramoff referred to his Indian clients with racist slurs in his e-mails and represented some tribes while also representing their rival tribes who were competing for the same casino turf - the mother of all conflicts of interest!

Also, Billmon at the Whiskey Bar has some neat quips and excerpts from the pre-scandal days. It looks a little bit like a Lexis-Nexis search for anything with "Abramoff", but there are some nice quotes in there.

Politics: Bush and Spying

Looking at folks debate the recent stuff about Bush's top-secret (at least in the vernacular sense) program to wiretap phone and data conversations of which US citizens may be a part... I notice it tends to get fractured into smaller, deeper debates about warrants in general or congress vs. the executive branch or whether simple suspicion of terrorism abrogates US citizenship, etc.

So to summarize the important facets about the current scandal:

  1. Having a spy progam targeting...

  2. US Citizens...

  3. Without a warrant or court order...

  4. Where existing law passed by congress prohibits doing so...

  5. (Bonus) When a perfectly legal, fast, reliable way to do it with warrants exists (FISA)...

  6. (Bonus) And Saying it's within your powers to utterly ignore US law becuase of "war powers" in a conflict which is technically not a war and is almost by definition unwinnable. (War on Terror. Terror's pretty hard to kill.)

There've been folks on the right saying "But Clinton/Carter did exactly the same thing"... as far as I know at least one of those 1-4 major points does not come into play in their examples, making it a flawed comparison. And all of the polls being conducted seem to leave something important out, asking questions which don't reflect the controversy.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I bow to the superior wisdom of Dr. Snedley

Except courtesy of Dr. Snedley (associate of Dr. Biobrain), as he delivers a devastating indictment of liberal talking points:
Come off it, Glenn (if that is your real name). The terrorists we're dealing with are as cunningly brilliant and mind-bogglingly stupid as we need them to be at any given moment. That's exactly what makes them so damn dangerous and why Bush needs the illegal powers he's grabbed to protect us. They’re cowering in caves at one minute, and scouring CNN and internet message-boards for pro-terror encouragement the next.
Sure, these FISA courts of yours could provide the exact same protection that Bush has claimed his less-than-legal options have garnered; but what kind of message does that send the terrorists? When their chief opponent isn't even willing to break a few laws to defeat them? These people blow up buildings for entertainment; and our President can't even violate a lousy statute or two? They're laughing at us already. And if the terrorists are laughing, the terrorists have already won.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Politics: Why the Abramoff scandal is Republican

There've been a lot of things recently in the news and right-wing blog sites that claim Democrats are equally culpable, but here I'd like to try to debunk this spin and explain why--at least for now--the Abramoff scandal is predominantly about Republicans. I'll try to be even-handed, but I'm not going to delude myself that I don't have a strong bias.

Abramoff is was a lobbyist for several native American tribes. He has pled guilty to several distinct charges, the current popular charge being bribery of public officials.

Here's the right-wing spin: "Democrats also recieved money from Abramoff and his associates". The "and associates" part is what makes the statement deliberately misleading, but also keeps it from being a flat-out lie. First, Abramoff himself donated (possibly bribed) exclusively to Republicans, according to federal records. Secondly, no Democrats are (currently?) under scrutiny for being wine-and-dined by Abramoff, or given all-expense-paid vacations, etc., like some of their Republican counterparts.

So who are these "associates" of Abramoff who have given to Democrats? The native American tribes. But this is irrelevant. Guess what else Abramoff pled guilty to? He pled guilty for defrauding his clients, the tribes, out of millions. Republican apologists would have you believe that the tribes donated to Democrats based on Abramoff's recommendations, but let's be realistic: I'm certain (but am unable to name names) that the tribes employ multiple lobbyists, at least some of which are conduits to Democrats, and not all of which are corrupt.

During Abramoff's employment, the tribes began to donate more to Republicans and less to Democrats (they've probably been legally donating to both parties for decades.) The reasonable explanation is that he was one of many lobbyists giving recommendations, and records which might show up will probably show that he exerted a big pull on the tribes to shift as much presumably-legal funding to Republican candidates as possible--balanced by the fact that his employers (like many industries and interests) weren't about to put all their legal-donation eggs in one basket.

The tribes had the final say in their donation destinations. I doubt Jack Abramoff would attempt to direct any sort of funding towards democratic candidates--he once said: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently."

So here's the summary. Abramoff's employers have indeed donated to Democrats, and have for quite some time, but they are not charged with wrongdoing, and are indeed victims of Abramoff, who defrauded them of millions. Abramoff himself has either legitimately donated or illegally bribed only Republicans, and it is highly unlikely that he would try to get illegally cozy with Democrats. Therefore, to claim that Democrats are equally culpable--given what we currently know--is dishonest.

Now, we'll find out more as documents are released, folks are indicted, and guilty pleas unfold. I would not be surprised to find at least one Democrat snared in the legal net, but I want to emphasize that the current frenzy on the Right is misleading and proceeds from dubious assumptions.

P.S.: Fact checking on this post is welcome.

Update 1:

Similar rebuttal by Howard Dean. I'd have been a little more explicit about how Abramoff stole millions from "his associates", but oh well. Transcript availible at Atrios' and movie at Crooks and Liars.

Update 2:

Ah, it seems Ian has picked up Dean's little clip too. I disagree, for the reasons already detailed in this post. Also, why would Ian want to disseminate (disperse, repeat) what Dean says? I'm guessing he meant "debunk". But then again, I may just be the pot calling the kettle "back".

Update 3:

[ Perhaps this is an excuse for testing the trackback functionality and getting some views from an established blog? Wait! Too much self-introspection! Abort, Abort! ]

Found this post on Firedoglake:
Let's get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

These tribes are where the big money (and money towards Democrats) in Abramoff's "and associates" comes from. As a side note, I still feel our current system of campaign funding, while legal, is too open to bribery--it just switches the order around. Instead of paying to help someone win, and then getting preferential treatment from them (bad), you realize you'll benefit from their election and pay to help them win (normal, legal). Self-interest isn't the problem, but there's too much wealth determining the outcome for my hazy, idealistic, and untested perfect world daydreams.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Politics: The Political Teen needs to grow up

Yes, the inevitable rant-post. You knew this was coming. Anyway, I want to vent some bile at Ian Schwartz over at The Political Teen. While Ian does a good job collecting and posting up clips from the news, it's essentially another right-wing blog to pass on official spin. That alone isn't so bad.

No, what irks me is Ian's cowardice. Instead of responding to an argument, he prefers to ban people or delete their posts. While this is within his technical rights, it contravenes his stated comment policy, because he deletes posts which are civil and topical. (In other words, a few of mine.)

If Ian ever wants to have a real discussion, I'd be happy to have one somewhere where he can't cover for making a fool of himself with administrative power... Bloopers like claiming that the phrase is "Pot calling the kettle back" or dishonestly implying that the botched attempt to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 was "A Clinton Operation". (In both my posts have since been silently removed.)

Oh god, a blog! Noooooo!

Well, I've finally succumbed. After thinking myself too humble for a blog, I've gotten one. While I still detest the phrase "blogosphere", my burgeoning hubris leads me onwards, to shamelessly expound on my slightest whim to a wider internet which will probably never read it.

Oh well.