Thursday, March 31, 2005

Unscientific Unamerican

The April editorial, "Okay, We Give Up," from Scientific American via too much and too little:

There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.

In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it.

Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn't get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either. So what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What's the Matter Here?

Today's New York Times has two interesting guest editorials -- one by former Senator Bill Bradley, the other by a former senator and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John C. Danforth. Both are discussing the problems with their respective parties.

In "A Party Inverted," Bradley does a little post-election analysis of the Democratic Party...

When the Goldwater Republicans lost in 1964, they didn't try to become Democrats. They tried to figure out how to make their own ideas more appealing to the voters. As part of this effort, they turned to Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to become a member of the United States Supreme Court. In 1971 he wrote a landmark memo for the United States Chamber of Commerce in which he advocated a sweeping, coordinated and long-term effort to spread conservative ideas on college campuses, in academic journals and in the news media.

To further the party's ideological and political goals, Republicans in the 1970's and 1980's built a comprehensive structure based on Powell's blueprint. Visualize that structure as a pyramid...

Big individual donors and large foundations - the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance - form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.

The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid - the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.

At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine...

To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.

Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.

There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. Campaigns don't start thinking about a Democratic brand until halfway through the election year, by which time winning the daily news cycle takes precedence over building a consistent message. The closest that Democrats get to a brand is a catchy slogan...

Opponents in the primaries then exaggerate their differences and leave the public confused about what Democrats believe.

In such a system tactics trump strategy. Candidates don't risk talking about big ideas because the ideas have never been sufficiently tested. Instead they usually wind up arguing about minor issues and express few deep convictions. In the worst case, they embrace "Republican lite" platforms - never realizing that in doing so they're allowing the Republicans to define the terms of the debate...

If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.

In "In the Name of Politics," Danforth, an Episcopalian minister, laments that his Republican Party is being "transformed...into the political arm of conservative Christians."

...The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.

Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party...

High-profile Republican efforts to prolong the life of Ms. Schiavo, including departures from Republican principles like approving Congressional involvement in private decisions and empowering a federal court to overrule a state court, can rightfully be interpreted as yielding to the pressure of religious power blocs.

In my state, Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly have advanced legislation to criminalize even stem cell research in which the cells are artificially produced in petri dishes and will never be transplanted into the human uterus. They argue that such cells are human life that must be protected, by threat of criminal prosecution, from promising research on diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes.

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.

I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God's call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement...

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Air America Radio

This Thursday, March 31, marks the one-year anniversary of Air America Radio. I'm not sure how they're planning to mark the occasion, but HBO will be showing "Left of the Dial" as part of its America Undercover documentary series. (Click the link for a preview and synopsis of the show and other information.)

They got off to a quick, well-hyped start, then hit a few snags. There were some financial difficulties, some bounced checks. They were knocked off of their stations in Chicago and L.A. After some new financial backing, they've made a big comeback. They're now on 51 stations nationwide, including XM (channel 167) and Sirius (channel 144) Satellite Networks.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Points to Ponder

"Everywhere you look, the culture is fractured and divisive and mean. Everywhere you look it's war and pollution and more toxins, red versus blue, good versus evil, more garbage and less concern where to shove it, fewer restrictions on industrial polluters and fewer controls on corporate abuse and an administration that has so shamelessly leveraged the worst tragedy in American history to further its brutal and hawkish right-wing agenda it would embarrass Mussolini.

"The sad fact is, there are a great many among us who believe we have entered into a new Dark Age, that it will be a long and brutal slog indeed and BushCo is merely the precursor, the devil's handmaiden, and that we have a long way to go into the bleak and the bloody and the environmentally devastating before the pendulum begins its slow swing back toward the light.

"Just look around. No one anywhere, not priests, not nuns, not healers or mystics, not Christians, not pagans, not Repubs or Demos or Libertarians, no one anywhere in this country is saying, hey, doesn't it feel like we're entering into a new era of health and healing and positivism and spiritual rebirth? Aren't our schools just teeming anew with eager students who seem to be getting smarter and more articulate? Isn't the air getting cleaner and aren't we proud of our government for protecting the health of future generations by pushing for more natural foods and signing on to the Kyoto Treaty and advocating antitoxin regulations and by protecting our forests and improving school textbooks and revolutionizing the hideous national health care system?

"Doesn't that tone of enthusiasm and hope sound just completely silly, wrong, out of place, like so much Prozac-grade bulls--? Damn right it does.

"There's a reason for that. We are not headed for light. Not yet, anyway. The coming years are not going to be about friendship and repaired foreign relations and a sense of our shared humanity, about equality and sexual freedom and a renewed sense of human rights. To believe this is to believe in fairy tales almost as insidious and hopeless as evangelical Christians who are right now stuffing themselves with Cheez-Its and pink wine and praying for Armageddon."

-- Mark Morford, "Is This a New Dark Age?"

Friday, March 25, 2005

The C.S.I. Effect

After actor Robert Black was found not guilty of murdering his wife, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley had a meltdown, calling the jury "incredibly stupid" and blaming the outcome on the "C.S.I. Effect."

Prosecutors across the country are complaining that jurors, who watch C.S.I. (and the spinoffs, C.S.I.: Miami and C.S.I.: New York) see a rich array of evidence, infallable investigators and cases that are quickly wrapped up in an hour, causing them to have unrealistic expectations in courtrooms.

"Jurors now expect us to have a DNA test for just about every case," laments Oregon District Attorney Josh Marquis. "They expect us to have the most advanced technology possible, and they expect it to look like it does on television." This district attorney works in the small Oregon town of Astoria. The nearest forensic lab is hours away. Beth Carpenter, who's with the Oregon Crime Lab, says there are expectations well beyond what the reality is, and that has increased the workload quite a bit.

Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, a CBS News consultant, says "The CSI Effect" is real, and an impediment: "When 'CSI' trumps common sense, then you have a systemic problem. The National District Attorneys Association is deeply concerned about the effect of 'CSI.' " Murphy points out, "This has been a bit of a problem even before the onset of DNA, and shows like 'CSI.' You get jurors who don't have a lot of brain cells asking questions after the case is over about why there weren't any fingerprints on the pillow case. Of course, that makes no sense. "But once you get the influence of 'CSI,' what they start to expect is not only a lot of forensic evidence, but that this one missing piece would have told them the truth. That's just not reality."

In Dane County, WI, Judge Stuart Schwartz reads a special letter to jurors, warning them that this is not TV, he won't be acting like the judges they see on TV and that they might not see a confession or DNA evidence.

As for the Blake case...

"The prosecutor took the approach of, 'We don't need the DNA, we don't need the eyewitness, we've got the big picture here, and if you look at the big picture, who had the motive, who had the opportunity, who acted strangely, who wanted his wife dead -- it was Robert Blake,' " says Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levensen, a former federal prosecutor.

Some, including C.S.I. creator Anthony E. Zuiker, think this is a good thing. Zuiker says, 'The CSI Effect' is, in my opinion, the most amazing thing that has ever come out of the series. For the first time in American history, you're not allowed to fool the jury anymore."

And sometimes the good guys win...

While we're on the subject, Quentin Tarentino will direct the season finale of C.S.I. which is being called "Kill Gill."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In Conclusion...

Live or die, this will probably be my last words on the Terri Schiavo tragedy. This is one family's highly personal decision that's been turned into a media circus and a political football. This is not news; whatever happens ultimately affects only Terri Schiavo's family -- except for the poignant reminder to us all of the need to have a living will. And none of us have enough facts to really know what the situation is. We have nothing but the "he said, she (they) said" spewing out of our TV sets. And every blog entry, news story, TV report, etc., etc., etc. just feeds into the Radical Right's political agenda. Just a couple of comments and I'm done.

Political Animal Kevin Drum has an excellent little piece on the "medical qualifications" of Dr./Sen. Bill Frist (one of my Tennessee senators), who "diagnosed" Schiavo's condition by watching videotapes and disagrees with the neurologists who have actually examined her. It's called "Stop This Man Before He Diagnoses Again." Frist's "diagnosis" has also raised eyebrows in the medical community.

Any sympathy I had for the Schindlers' side of the issue was destroyed in a heartbeat by the other Schindler daughter, Suzanne Vitadamo, on the Larry King show. This segment aired on Friday night. I caught just a few moments of it on a late Sunday night/early Monday morning rebroadcast...
KING: Suzanne, what is Michael's point if she didn't tell him that? What is his point in wanting this done? How does he gain by it, Suzanne?
VITADAMO: You know, Larry, I don't know. There's quite a bit of speculation out as to why he is so bent on killing Terri. You know, Michael has his family now. We agree that this is a family decision. But we are Terri's family. He has a fiancee and children, we're asking him to take care of his family and let us take care of ours.
KING: So, you don't -- you can't figure out a motive?
VITADAMO: As I said, there's speculation out there that I've heard running around. There might be maybe -- we have evidence that something may have happened pretty ugly the night that she collapsed. And, you know, again, he received quite a bit of money back in '93. And it was shortly after that he remembered these so-called wishes that we honestly don't believe. So, let everybody else maybe put something together and figure out why he's doing this because we certainly, you know, -- it really doesn't make any sense.

She goes on national television and throws out "speculation" of domestic violence, claiming to "have evidence that something may have happened." Larry King, being the consummate professional journalist that he is, fails to follow up on this startling revelation. "What evidence?" might have been a good follow-up question, but Larry was on to other topics.

While doing a Google News search to try to find the transcript for this interchange, I ran across The first link on the page pronounces, "Terri is a victim of Domestic Violence, but she can get better with treatment and therapy! Evidence here!" Okay, I'll bite. Clicking on the link takes me to a page with no evidence, just a promo for the website's author's appearance on Net Radio. A sad, sorry exercise.

In my previous post, I had a big list of Radical Right hypocrisies. Of course, I forgot the biggest hypocrisy of all: the party of smaller government, the party that wants to get government out of people's lives has no compunctions at all about getting involved here.

That's it. On to more important, more newsworthy how Halliburton subsidiary KBR charged the Pentagon - and American taxpayers - $27.5 million to ship $82,100 worth of cooking and heating oil into Iraq...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Terri Schiavo Hypocrisy

Does anyone else think it's strange that the same right-wing wingnuts who are so concerned about the Terri Schiavo tragedy are so unconcerned about others who need and can't afford medical care? The Radical Right has put this woman who has been brain-dead for fifteen years ahead of all other matters of state, rushing into this private affair to try to overturn a state court decision. (So much for states' rights - something the radicals are gung-ho for only when it suits them.) In the latest twist, they have crafted a bill to have her feeding tube reattached and her case moved into federal court. President Bush rushed back to Washington from his Texas "ranch" to sign it into law. Rep. Tom Delay, thankful for any issue that takes his numerous ethics violations off the front pages, says, "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life from a human being." Fifteen years and numerous court cases aren't enough, I guess. As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

While most of the money for Terri Schiavo's care has come from a medical malpractice settlement, the backers of "Terri's Law" are the same politicians working hard to cap medical malpractice awards and make it hard to file such lawsuits. And while working hard to make sure that Terri Schiavo gets the medical care she doesn't need, they are trying to cut Medicare and Medicaid -- programs that the elderly and the poor rely on for their medical care. They are certainly not going to work to make sure that the programs are expanded to provide for long-term care for vegetative patients who have no hope of recovery.

In this year's budget fight, the Senate and the House have come out on different sides on Medicaid. President Bush is asking for, and the House has given him, a budget that includes up to $20 billion in Medicaid cuts. In the Senate, Democrats and a few moderate Republicans banded together to strip Medicaid cuts from their budget blueprint. This sets the stage for a huge battle as Congress tries to reconcile the two budgets. Guess which side Delay and the rest of the Schiavo cheerleaders are on in the Medicaid battle.

President Bush has made the Social Security "crisis" a priority, but is virtually ignoring the real crisis -- Medicare. The Medicare trust fund, by some projections, will be depleted by 2019, and is already paying more out in benefits than it is collecting in payroll taxes. According to the latest federal projections, Social Security is $3.7 trillion short of what it needs to pay benefits over the next 75 years. Medicare is $27.8 trillion short. Alan Greenspan calls Medicare's woes "several multiples more difficult than is Social Security."

In President Bush's case, the hypocrisy is even more blatant. In 1999, when he was still governor of Texas, he signed into law Chapter 166 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, which calls for an ethics committee to decide life-and-death treatment if an attending physician disagrees with a surrogate. In a futility case (such as Schiavo's), in which the treatment team is seeking to stop treatment deemed to be nonbeneficial, the hospital is authorized to discontinue the disputed treatment (after a 10-day delay, during which the hospital must help try to find a facility that will accept a transfer of the patient).

On Tuesday, Sun Hudson died at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston after he was taken off the ventilator that was keeping him alive. The six-month-old was born with a form of dwarfism that caused his lungs to be too small. The Houston Chronicle notes that "Sun's death marks the first time a U.S. judge has allowed a hospital to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes."

Over at Houston's St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, the family of Spiro Nikolouzos is fighting to keep the hospital from removing his ventilator and feeding tube. The family has been given their ten-day notice. They have until this Wednesday to furnish written proof that another facility will take him as a patient. The 68-year-old man has been in a coma since 2001 because of complications from a brain shunt. The family and the hospital disagree about whether Nikolouzos is brain dead. The family attorney, Maria Caballero, claims that the hospital wants to discontinue treatment because his Medicare funding is running out, and the hospital's chief medical officer says that a patients inability to pay, combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile, are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support.

Friday, March 18, 2005


taken straight from the pages of Thursday's Washington Post via The Hamster:

Republican lawmakers, trying to convince a skeptical public about the wisdom of their Social Security proposals, decided yesterday that it was time to roll out a new metaphor.
Their choice: a brown 1935 Ford three-window Coupe, which House GOP leaders ordered driven onto a sidewalk outside the Capitol. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and a few colleagues stood in front of the antique, built the same year Franklin D. Roosevelt built Social Security, and likened the two.

"I wouldn't be caught dead in a 1935 automobile," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference's PR effort on Social Security. "And I want to make sure we have an updated system of Social Security, because that's America's investment vehicle."

But the car's owner, Henry Dubois, a retired government worker from Virginia, said McHenry's metaphor was off. "I didn't like that comment," he said, opening the hood to reveal a gleaming '41 Mercury hot-rod engine that was completely rebuilt two years ago. "It's in very good shape for a 1935," Dubois said, putting the Coupe's value at around $20,000. "It's been improved with an updated engine, so it keeps up with traffic."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Quote of the Day

"It's an important concept for our fellow citizens to understand, that no one in need will ever be forced to choose a faith-based provider. That's an important concept for people to understand. What that means is if you're the Methodist church and you sponsor an alcohol treatment center, they can't say only Methodists, only Methodists who drink too much can come to our program. "All Drunks Are Welcome" is what the sign ought to say."

-- President George W. Bush, March 1, 2005

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

More Fun Web Stuff

I run across this stuff, bookmark it, save it all up, and present it to you for your amusement and edification:

More proof that we can all start calling President Bush "lame duck:" the New York Times ran this article last week, "G.O.P. Leaders Balk at Tax Cuts in Bush's Budget."

WASHINGTON, March 9 - President Bush's plan to extend his tax cuts over the next five years ran into resistance in the Senate on Wednesday as Republican leaders offered a budget for 2006 that would undo more than a fourth of the cuts that Mr. Bush has requested.
Uneasy about the potential impact on the ballooning federal deficit, the Senate Republicans called for $70.2 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, as opposed to the estimated $100 billion the White House is seeking. It does not specify which cuts will be extended or which taxes might be restored, but Senator Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who is chairman of the Budget Committee, said his intent was to extend reductions on capital gains and dividend taxes, which are set to expire in 2008...
The Senate's proposal to scale back the extension of Mr. Bush's tax cuts comes at a time when Republicans are also feeling queasy about the White House's major domestic policy initiative for the year, overhauling Social Security. And the budget was not enough to mollify some Senate Republican moderates, who expressed concern Wednesday about extending the tax cuts at a time when the deficit is at a record high and domestic programs from farm subsidies to veterans' benefits and education are facing steep cuts.

Also in the Times last week, "Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming."

A core group of influential evangelical leaders has put its considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming.
These church leaders, scientists, writers and heads of international aid agencies argue that global warming is an urgent threat, a cause of poverty and a Christian issue because the Bible mandates stewardship of God's creation.
The Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals and a significant voice in the debate, said, "I don't think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created."

"Postcards from Buster" is still causing waves at PBS. By now everyone knows about the infamous syrup making episode that featured a lesbian family. The episode was condemned by Education Secretary Margaret Spelling and denied distribution by PBS. Now, the PBS newsmagazine "NOW" has killed a story they were planning to air about the "Buster" episode. The Washington Post TV column reports:

PBS suits insist that the decision had nothing to do with a letter that new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings sent to PBS chief Pat Mitchell at the same time, denouncing PBS for spending federal Ready to Learn funding to produce the episode.
Shortly before the "Now" crew was scheduled to show up, Pike says she got a call from producer Brian Myers saying the story had been killed because they were not able to get anyone from Education or PBS to give an interview.
"One more time I'm hearing that my family is considered invalid by PBS unless they have somebody on the other side that can condemn me," Pike said.
"Once again I put it out there and invited them into our home, and once again PBS won't do a show unless they can find a Margaret Spellings to say 'they're bad people.' "
Pike says of that conversation with Myers: "Somewhere along the line he said 'off the record,' but I'm not a reporter and my life is not off the record. I consider anything that has to do with my family is very much on the record."

Myers's on the record comment was that "we decided . . . at a certain point that we were a little bit behind the news cycle on [the story] and by the time it aired it would be way behind the news cycle." The blog Media Massage punctures the whole "news cycle" argument.

A group is trying to draft Chris Matthews of "Hardball" fame for a U.S. Senate run in 2006. This is a good thing because they're trying to convince him to run against one of the chief Republican Orcs, Rick Santorum. In addition to trying to get Matthews to run, they're also trying to call attention to Santorum's atrocious values. If you're a Pennsylvania resident, please sign the petition. If you're not, call someone in Pennsylvania and convince them to sign.

Another group is calling on all P2P users to unite for a boycott of movies and music during the week of April 24-30, 2005...
We call out to all that have shared a file, downloaded something online or think that prices are outrageous; Let us send a message to the entertainment industry leadership.
The last week in April 2005 - 24th up until and including 30th - show them how much money we are spending on their products by denying them our hard earned income. Do not go to the movies; do not buy any entertainment products during that week.
This is not to be confused as saying, "go pirate everything you can find as the production companies are common robbers." Instead, this is a way to show that we are indeed supporting them already, so stop fighting your customers!


Atom Films has a Flash short of G-Dub keeping it real with the D.R.A.F.T.

And, after years of surfing, I've finally reached the end of the Internet. (It's an old gag, but it's still funny when you come up on it.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A New Blog

Originally uploaded by fdtate.

I've started yet another Blogspot blog (that makes four now). This one is called Foto Frenzy, and you can probably guess from the name that it's a photo blog.
Check it out if'n you've got a mind to.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Chattanooga Icestorm

Chattanooga Icestorm, originally uploaded by fdtate.

Another photo experiment. This time I'm using to upload to my blog. The photo is another cropping from the same ruined water-droplet-on-the-lens photo as before. Again, this was taken in Chattanooga on Missionary Ridge during last month's icestorm.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

It's Just a Matter of Time

from Dateline: Hollywood Posted by Hello


Since I haven't learned html yet, I haven't been able to figure out how to add photos to my blogs. This is an experiment to see how well Picasa and Hello combine to perform the task. This photo was taken last month on Missionary Ridge here in Chattanooga during a minor icestorm. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bankruptcy "Reform"

Lost in the debate over Social Security privatization or "personalization" or whatever they're calling it today and the latest entertain-news story of the moment (Martha? Michael?) is the latest assault on average Americans: the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (S.256). This dog of a bill, written by financial services lobbyists in 1997, has been introduced and rejected many times over the years. Passage seems all but certain now. The key provisions of the bill would make it harder to declare under Chapter 7 by imposing a means test. Those who earn more than the median income in their state and can pay $6000 over five years would have to file under Chapter 13, which requires a repayment plan. The bill would make it harder for the average American suffering through financial hardship to start over, but lets the real abusers of the system have a pass.

Proponents of the bill explain that people are abusing the current system. That's why "reform" (there's that word again -- always be leery when a Republican uses it) is needed. People are going crazy with credit cards, running up huge debts, then declaring bankruptcy and skipping out on the debts. That's probably happening occasionally, but the overwhelming majority of bankruptcy cases can be blamed on medical bills, job loss, or divorce. Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren says, "The people we found to be profoundly affected are not some distant underclass. They're the very heart of the middle class. These are educated Americans with decent jobs, homes and families. But one stumble, and they end up in complete financial collapse, wiped out by medical bills." Indeed, a Health Affairs study of bankruptcy filings revealed that "the average debtor was a forty-one-year-old woman with children and at least some college education. Most debtors owned homes; their occupational prestige scores place them predominately in the middle or working classes." Most suffered severe hardships before filing for bankruptcy...and even afterward.

The Senate has voted down several Democratic amendments to the legislation. These include an amendment that would have closed down a loophole for the wealthy to limit asset protection trusts to $125,000. And, of course, the homestead exemptions for the wealthy remain. They can declare bankruptcy and hold on to their multi-million-dollar mansions. But another voted-down amendment would have set a homestead floor for the elderly. As Senator Charles Schumer put it, "So now we have a bill that says a family won't be protected if it has $50,000, but it will if it has $5 million. Also rejected: an amendment that would have exempted debtors with serious medical problems from means testing, exemptions for servicemembers and veterans, exemptions for caregivers of ill or disabled family members, and exemptions for identity theft victims. But the Senate has also failed to curb some of the egregious excesses of the credit card industry. Amendments that would require "enhanced disclosure to consumers regarding the consequences of making only minimum required payments" on credit cards, put a limit on interest rates on credit extensions at 30%, and discourage predatory lending practices were also voted down. The Senate did agree however to increase bankruptcy filing fees. And of course, this "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention" bill does nothing to prevent corporations like Enron and WorldCom from abusing the system.

Talking Points Memo has more information in a special Bankruptcy section, including a few posts by Elizabeth Warren.

Today, the Senate voted (every single Republican and quite a few Democrats) for cloture, ending debate and setting the bill up for a vote sometime within the next few days. Now would be the perfect time to write, call, or email your senators and tell them what you think. The American Progress Action Fund has one of those nifty fill-in-the-blanks email forms.

Blogging from the White House

There's a silver lining to the sordid Jeff Gannon/James Guckert affair. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past several weeks, you know who I'm talking about so I'm not going to rehash all the lewd details. But one of the points that has been driving the blogosphere nuts has been trying to figure out how this right-wing hack passed the background check necessary to get a press pass to get within spitting distance of the president. The right has countered that he didn't have an "official" press pass, but just a long series of day passes. Ann Coulter, in her sweet, charming way added that "press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president." Thomas, who has been in the White House press pool since the Fillmore Administration or thereabout, is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants.

Garrett M. Graff of fishbowl DC set out on a quest to obtain one of the golden tickets, a White House day pass. After several days of bureaucratic runaround, he finally achieved his objective: admittance to the White House briefing room. The big day was yesterday, March 7. This post, "Off to the White House..." has links to the other posts documenting the four or five days of failure. Two posts, "Inside the Gaggle" and "Inside the Briefing: Reality TV at It's Worst" describe what it was like to be the first blogger in the White House press pool: boring and whatever the opposite of glamourous is.

UPDATE: Today, Graff has two more posts about his experiences inside the White House. "FLASH: Scott McClellan Has No Visible Horns in Person" describes a private meeting/interview with McClellan in his office. "On White House Credentials" attempts to answer the questions: "So who can cover the White House now? Who's a journalist in this day and age? Who's legitimate?" As far as getting the White House hard pass, the news agency, crew, or freelancer has to be based in Washington and there's a requirement that at least half of a reporter's income has to come from his news organization. These requirements will probably limit most bloggers to using day passes.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Quote of the Day

"I don't need any money. I have plenty. This is why it is easier for me to take this money. I don't even know who is giving me the money in the first place, and I don't even care. No one can buy me."

-- California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Social Security

In this week's column, "Deficits and Deceits," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman talks about the bait-and-switch being carried out by President Bush and the Republican leaders of Congress. They're talking Social Security reform, but their real agenda seems to be strinking the government down to bathtub size by dismantling the New Deal and the Great Society. Bush and Congress have already worked their "reform" magic on Medicare - their prescription drug benefit plan has exacerbated the financial problems of that program while giving huge subsidies to HMOs, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. Bush's tax cuts are another piece of the grand scheme. They were designed "to starve the beast" - to erase the surpluses of the Clinton years and justify spending cuts. In fact, in August, 2001, President Bush declared that the disappearing surplus was "incredibly positive news" because it would "put a straitjacket" on Congressional spending.

The good news is that the more the public hears about Bush's plans for Social Security "reform" and "private accounts" the less they like them. Bush has been touring the country for weeks trying to drum up support for his plan (with only a brief timeout for a jaunt to Europe) amid a media blitz of disinformation that puts the Harry and Louise health-care campaign to shame, and the natives are getting restless. According to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, only 35% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of Social Security, down from 43% only three weeks ago. More Americans trust the Democratic Party to deal with Social Security (47%) than the Republican Party (37%). The latest New York Times poll finds only 31% have confidence in President Bush's ability to make the right decisions about Social Security. 51% think that private accounts are a bad idea. That number jumps to 69% when respondents were told that private accounts might lead to a reduction in benefits. Only 19% think that private accounts would make Social Security a better program. Only 15% could bring themselves to call the Social Security situation "a crisis," although 46% think it's in "serious trouble" and 32% think it's in "some trouble." Some solutions? 61% favor raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes, an idea proposed by Bush but shot down by Congressional leaders. 49% oppose raising the retirement age. 49% favor raising Social Security taxes, if necessary, to keep the program going.

Of course, Social Security is in "some," maybe even "serious" trouble. And it's disingenuous of some Democrats to act as if everything's copacetic. Mathematics and demographics are not on our side. The population is aging and living longer. The program relies on workers to pay the benefits of retirees, and as the baby-boom generation retires we will have fewer and fewer workers to pay into the system. And we're already racking up huge budget and trade deficits on top of a $7 trillion national debt. Pete Peterson's book, Running on Empty, makes clear the financial timebomb just up the road. Well, maybe not clear. He combines Social Security and Medicare together as if they were just one big program, lumping their problems together in the process. They are not. Social Security's problems are easy to fix, while Medicare's are not. Medicare is the real "crisis" in our social economic safety net.

But do we want this Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight working on Social Security reform. This is a party that's been against the program since it began, opposed every minute increase in benefits, and plotted (sometimes openly) for it to be abolished. What does it say when President Bush, the Republican Party, and right-wing organizations like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have been pushing for privatization for decades yet can't offer up any specifics. Do they not have any or do they not want us to know what they are? And it's telling that the pro-privatization experts you're seeing on the news are being paid by some of these same right-wing groups. And what did Faux News's Neil Cavuto really mean when he said, "We're not getting the word out?" If the Bushies really want to fix the Social Security problem they should get the budget back into surplus. Or at least take the Social Security surplus out of the general funds? But then they wouldn't be able to hide the true size of the deficit as easily, would they? And, of course, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has jumped into the fray. A few years ago, Greenspan was gungo-ho about tax cuts, saying that it would be a bad idea to pay down the national debt too quickly. Now, he's talking about benefit cuts and a consumption tax -- the worst kind of tax there is.

If you want to know why Bush's privatization plans are a bad idea, or if you want to learn more so you can argue better with your conservative friends, several sites have talking points including Think Progress, the American Progress Action Fund, the Campaign for America's Future, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the AFL-CIO, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Concord Coalition. Several of the sites listed have suggestions for actions you can take to protect Social Security, including petitions and statements for your elected representatives. MoveOn is soliciting money to run their "Working Retirement" ad in key Congressional districts. MoveOn Pac is conducting a Flash contest called "Bush in 30 Years," inviting people to send in Macromedia Flash animations, games, etc. The winner gets an Apple Powerbook G4 and their winning Flash will run on major news websites.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Tidbits from the Web

Just a few interesting tidbits collected whilst surfing the Web:

The Santa Barbara Independent is promoting an appearance by Bill Moyers at UC-Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall on...oops...March 1 by running an interview with the man. Seventy-years-old and still pretty fiesty, Moyers has some interesting comments about mainstream media:

"I think mainstream journalism has been driven to the lowest priority on the scale of values of the mega media companies that own them. Journalism and the news business don’t always mix. And we now have big media companies that own the journalistic organs and that’s not their top priority. When Michael Eisner says he doesn’t want ABC news covering Disney activities you realize there’s a chilling effect on corporate journalists that proscribes their boundaries. With a few honorable exceptions, you cannot count on the big media companies to put journalism above other values in their hierarchy of values. There was a study done a year ago in which one-third of the journalists who responded said they were asked to kill stories that were offensive to the clientele of their corporate bosses. So you have a very neutered mainstream media, and you have a powerful ideological megaphone in Fox News and talk radio for the right wing. So there’s an imbalance today and the right wing has the dominant megaphone in America."

the reelection (I mean, the election) of President Bush and the Big Lie:

"There are always a lot of people who prefer the comfortable lie to the uncomfortable truth. In this case, a majority of voters knew exactly what you’re saying, yet voted for him none the less. They did so for one of two reasons. First, Bush had America scared to death. And fear was the dominant issue in that campaign, not moral values. Second, many of Bush’s supporters buy into the belief system that he and his allies have propounded. And in that belief system — which is supported by Fox News and talk radio — no evidence to the contrary can be permitted. Ideologues embrace a worldview that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. The Washington Post had a story about a study recently about how even if what people first hear turns out to be wrong, they still tend to believe it’s true. That’s because, if it fits their value system, they don’t change it after they learn it’s not true. It’s a weird phenomenon. I’d also say conservatives have never been more politically dominant and more intellectually and morally bankrupt. Because of that they can keep their troops believing the Big Lie. The Big Lie is that the threat of Al Qaeda is greater to us than the threat of low wages, environmental pollution, the growing inequality in America, or the terrible failure of the Bush policies on schools. People just didn’t want the uncomfortable truth to disturb the comfortable lie."

and staying informed in the Internet Era:

"You have to work hard to stay informed in this society. You can’t take any one newspaper or any one magazine and expect to be informed. You have to work at it. Anybody who has the energy and the time and the will can be informed today. But you can’t do it by listening to one broadcast or watching one cable channel or reading one newspaper. You really have to become your own editor today. I think that’s both exhilarating and exhausting. It is also a necessity. You can’t rely on the networks. You have to read the other side and listen to the other side. I spend as much time with conservative Web sites and conservative journals as I do with the New York Times, Washington Post, or the L.A. Times."

After the WMDs in Iraq proved to be nonexistent, removing the evil dictator Saddam Hussein and installing democracy in Iraq moved to the top of the list of reasons for going to war. Why stop there? Saddam isn't the only bad guy in the world. When are we going after these other guys on Parade Magazine's annual list of "The World's 10 Worst Dictators?" Wait a minute, some of these guys are our allies. Here's the list with last year's rankings:
  1. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan (7)
  2. Kim Jong Il, North Korea (1)
  3. Than Shwe, Burma (2)
  4. Hu Jintao, China (3)
  5. Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia (5)
  6. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya (Dishonorable Mention)
  7. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan (Not mentioned)
  8. Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan (8)
  9. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe (4)
  10. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea (6)

And remember that other war? Afghanistan? Three years after the U.S. drove out the Taliban and promised to rebuild the country, Afghanistan ranks 173 out of 178 nations in the U.N. 2004 Human Development Index in living standards, outranking only five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The report warns of "anarchy if its dire poverty, poor health and insecurity (are) not improved."
Much has been done since the war (54% of school-age children are enrolled in school, and the non-drug gross domestic product grew 16% in 2003), but much work remains:

"Average life expectancy is 44.5 years, at least 20 years lower than in neighboring countries. One out of two Afghans can be classified as poor, and 20.4 percent of the rural population gets less than the benchmark of 2,070 calories a day to eat. Most glaring are inequalities that affect women and children...One woman dies from pregnancy-related causes about every 30 minutes, and maternal mortality rates are 60 times higher than in industrialized countries, the report said. One-fifth of the children die before the age of 5, 80 per cent of them from preventable diseases, one of the worst rates in the world."

If you decided to quit learning when you got out of school (and you probably didn't if you're reading blogs), you won't care too much for the VARK Learning Test. Answer a few simple questions and the VARK Test (which stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic) tells you your best strategy to use to learn new material. I have a multimodal learning preference - very high marks in Read/Write and Kinesthetic, very low in Visual and Aural. That means that if you were giving me directions to your house, I would have a much better chance of getting there if you wrote down the directions or drew me a map than if you just told me the directions.

And to wrap up this little Web journey, here's a tidbit of Weird News: The FAA has concluded its investigation into the beach-ball-sized chunk of frozen human waste that dropped from a passing plane and totaled a parked car. They narrowed it down to about five carriers, but were unable to get to the bottom of it - so to speak.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Seriously? Shrek? And Gummyi Candy?

The humorless, homophobic miscreants of the Christian Right are at it again. First, it was the silly Teletubbies, then Spongebob, then Buster -- now, they've found more homosexuals in cartoon land. Well, not homosexuals -- just cross-dressers and transsexuals. In Shrek 2. Oh, the humanity! What will the poor children think?

The Traditional Values Coalition has issued a "special report" on their website, "A Gender Identity Disorder Goes Mainstream," that exposes the vast conspiracy "of the homosexual and transgender movements to normalize so-called sex-change operations and to deconstruct the reality of male and female in our culture." The conspiracy consists of a lesson plan posted on the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) website to teach elementary school children tolerance toward cross-dressers (they make no mention of any school district actually using the lesson plan), the International Olympic Committee's decision to allow transgendered athletes to compete in future games, and a transgendered couple who attempted to get married in Kansas. Oh, and Shrek 2:

"which...featured a male-to-female transgendered bartender whose voice is that of talk show host Larry King. The bartender had a 5 o'clock shadow but was clearly shown to be a woman wearing a dress. In addition, "Shrek 2" revealed that Pinocchio is actually a secret cross-dresser who wears women's underwear. At the end of the movie during a dance sequence, the transgendered bartender jumps on Prince Charming and both tumble to the ground.
"In addition, Prince Charming is voiced by openly homosexual actor Rupert Everett. Prince Charming is shown to be effeminate in the film."

The TVC report explains why this is such a problem:

"These are deeply troubled individuals who need professional help, not societal approval or affirmation."

Puh-leeze! Setting aside the TVC's blatant's a cartoon, an animated movie for children that happens to contain a few jokes for adults that are going to go right over the head of the average 10-year-old. Get some professional help for yourselves! Stop taking everything and yourselves so seriously!

And just to show that the right doesn't have a monopoly on humorlessness, the New Jersey SPCA is protesting gummy candy. Apparently Trolli Road Kill Gummy Candy, which features flattened animal shapes complete with tire treads, is going to turn our kids into sociopathic animal abusers. The NJSPCA is planning petitions, boycotts, and letter-writing campaigns to get the gummys removed from the shelf. "It sends the wrong message to children, that it's OK to harm animals. And that's the wrong message, especially from a so-called wholesome corporation like Kraft," said society spokesman Matthew Stanton.
If you can't find more serious corporate misconduct than this, you need to turn in your left-wing muckraking credentials. It's gummy candy. It's marketed toward 8- or 10-year-olds who find fart jokes amusing. There are more serious issues real animal cruelty.