Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Monday, February 27, 2006
In which the picture speaks for itself (II)
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:10 PM
A little late, but not to be missed.


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Saturday, February 25, 2006
You are getting sleepy
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:17 PM
This is something you don't need to see on a Saturday afternoon.


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Friday, February 24, 2006
Headline roundup / open thread
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:31 PM
Lots going on out in the world. I could either write about it or do my real job this afternoon. I need to eat, so I'll do work. Feel free to discuss the following or anything else in the comments. What's on your mind?

- The UAE port sale hysteria. Is it xenophobic to pitch a fit about selling American ports (currently under British management) to the UAE when China already owns some? Is Dubai friendly to terror or just friendly to dollars? And why is Bush defending this so vigorously when he was unaware of it until he saw it on the news last week?

- South Dakota's abortion ban. Some in my home state floated a similar bill, but it was immediately shouted down by the pro-life lobby. They were afraid that if the SCOTUS shot it down, it would be a huge setback and a big net win for the pro-choice side. (They advocated a slow-erosion approach.) Indeed, many observers agree that even with Roberts and Alito, the court is unlikely to overturn Roe in one fell swoop. It looks possible (maybe even likely) that SD is going to throw caution to the wind and go for all the marbles. Smart or doomed?

- Iraq civil war. Already being called the "Iraqi 9/11," the destruction of the golden dome of the Askariya shrine has sparked violence that has killed hundreds and brought the country to the brink of civil war. Is such a clash inevitable, or can a government be imposed on the country as it exists now? Is the set of borders called "Iraq" an unsustainable construction?

- And finally, an unsuccessful suicide-bomb attack on a Saudi oil facility has sent prices soaring again. With the market this jittery, what happens if Iran's oil goes off the table?

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Enforced obsolescence
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:20 PM


It's now official -- most of the HDTVs in homes today won't be able to display the new HD disc formats in HD.

[T]he new players won't output a full-HD signal from their component-video connections, since those jacks are analog instead of digital and thus have no copy protection. The "down-rezzed" signals will be limited to a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels — exactly one-quarter the 1,920 x 1,080 pixels that you'll get through the copy-protected digital connectors on the players.


And here's the punchline:

And the sun will set on analog video for good after Dec. 31, 2013, when AACS-licensed players can't be made or sold with any analog video outputs, including the familiar yellow composite-video jack.


So not only are the content providers/hardware manufacturers (which are now the same conglomerates, which is a big part of the problem) sending consumers away in droves with a ridiculous format war, but they're also making sure the majority of HDTV owners have no incentive to upgrade (960x540 is practically the same as 720x480 DVD). Which means the only people who would be interested in these new players and discs would be a minority of an already tiny minority (HDTV owners themselves). Plus, new players will not work with *any* analog-only televisions (which are still being sold by the millions) in eight years.

Now there's a marketing plan sure to show up in textbooks 20 years from now.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Picking up the brick
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:17 PM


One of the more ignorant observations I've heard several times in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon riots goes something like: "Those darn Muslims are so violent. We can't possibly have peace with them. Not like Christians. Christians are peaceful, they don't riot or kill people when they get offended. Which they do all the time in this country because people in Wal-Mart won't say 'Merry Christmas' blah blah bloviate..."

Leaving aside the issue of Christianity's rich history of violence (including the Crusades, which have a little something to do with current state of relations between the two religions), what's missing from this analysis is any recognition of the relationship between mob violence and standard of living. Your typical American Christian fundamentalist has a house and two cars and a good job -- he's got too much to lose by throwing a Molotov cocktail at a building, and not much to gain. His complaint is completely theoretical, not practical.

For the typical Third World Muslim, however, the stakes are completely different. For many, their lives are spent under grim conditions with nothing to lose, all the while being fed a steady stream of anti-Western propaganda by professional shit-stirrers. The cartoons are just an excuse to let those simmering resentments fly, resentments that consume the whole of their lives, not just "getting a little steamed while watching Fox News."

So what happens when you put the Muslims and Christians on a level playing field? This:

Religious riots sparked by the publishing of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad continued into their fifth day in Nigeria as Christian mobs in this southern city attacked Muslim motorists, leaving at least 22 dead. Nationwide, the toll was at least 65 dead and likely to rise.

Thousands of refugees also huddled at police stations and army barracks near here to avoid hordes of angry young men bent on avenging days of killings in northern Nigeria cities.

"They've been killing our brothers and sisters in the north," men shouted Wednesday morning, according to motorist Afoma Clara Adigwe, 40, shortly after driving through Onitsha. She escaped the mobs, she said, only by speaking the Ibo language dominant in this heavily Christian section of Nigeria.


Not to get all Marxist, but the problem isn't Christianity vs. Islam, the problem is class. It's the same fundamental mistake people make when they claim that blacks are inherently less "civilized" because their crime rates are higher. Clearly, it's easier on one's conscience to assume that things like crime and violence and terrorism are because of things like race and religion (which we can't address) and not economic imbalances (which we can).

Does any of this excuse crime and violence? Of course not -- the poor aren't above the law any more than George W. Bush is (or should be). But the reasons behind the violence are a little more complex than "brown Muslims are little better than animals."

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006
If they ban "Eros" I'm in trouble
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:43 PM
Having toiled in the sysadmin trenches in the past, I'm always amused by stories of ill-considered decisions from management going horribly awry when put into practice. This seems to be just such a tale.

If you use Yahoo! email and happen to be named, say, Callahan, good luck getting your name in your e-mail address. Why? It contains the letters "a-l-l-a-h".

(And if Erik Unt of Tarzana, CA spelled his name a little differently, he'd have problems, too.)

Non-geeks can stop reading now, as a story only a sysadmin can appreciate follows.

Several years ago, the president of my company was irate. A friend of his was trying to send him a New York Times article (or something) and the friend kept getting the message bounced back to him as having violated our profanity filter. (This is sort of thing executives get irate about.)

After turning off the filter to let the offending mail through, we scoured the message and article, and found nothing untoward. We were at a loss to explain the problem.

Then we realized that the article was a Word attachment. The filter wasn't even able to scan it. Instead, the sender's e-mail program encoded the attachment into 7-bit ASCII, which is hardly unusual. What was unusual: right in the middle of the ASCII-encoded file were the characters s, H, i and t. In order.

According to my rudimentary understanding of probability, there's a one in 1,115,664.0625 chance of that happening (assuming case doesn't matter, which it didn't). Of course, you have to combine that with the appoximately one in 100 chance that the recipient was the president. Murphy strikes again.

I don't think we use a profanity filter any more.

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Rick Santorum buys a house, drinks lots of coffee
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:57 PM
There's a must-read article in the American Prospect about Sen. Santorum's wild ride on the gravy train.



Good stuff on the man who wants to bring ethics reform to the Senate.

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Passing gas
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:24 PM


So now the War President is taking off the fighter pilot costume and donning the white lab coat of Dr. Alt-Fuel (not to be confused with his arch-nemesis Ozone Man):

Think about how your children or your grandchildren may be able to spend a President's Day in the future. If you're planning a trip to visit relatives, you can plug in your hybrid car the night before and drive the first 40 miles on your lithium ion battery. If you've got more distance to go, you can fill up at your local ethanol station. If you're in Wisconsin, you'll be filling it up with corn product. In Crawford, it may just be switch grass. (Laughter.) You may decide to travel in a hydrogen-powered minivan, and refuel at a station with hydrogen generated by a local nuclear power plant. When you finally make it to where you're going, you can sit at a house that is lit by clean coal, or wind energy, or solar-powered roof over your head.


There's something very curious about this vision of the future. I'm all for renewable energy, and I'll be the last to suggest we don't need to do something about our reliance on petroleum. But what does Bush have to say about the latter?

And so here are three ways that we can do that, change our reliance from oil. First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do. Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil. And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all.


The one thing he will absolutely not suggest is using less oil with our current technology. He's talking up hybrids and hydrogen and running cars with tumbleweed, but what about the 13 MPG SUV that's in the driveway today? Keep on truckin'.

It doesn't take much to deduce why. While singing paeans to marginal and/or largely theoretical tech doesn't upset the status quo, suggesting that people drive less is anathema to Bush's base -- business interests. Oil companies swimming in profits definitely don't want consumption to go down, of course. (Hybrids don't bother these interests much, I would think. While the 40 MPG Priuses get all the press, it looks like the popular hybrids in the real marketplace will be things like the Lexus RX400h and the forthcoming Chevy Tahoe hybrid -- the big vehicles Americans love getting the same mileage that normal passenger cars get, or less [the Tahoe hybrid is expected to weigh in at around 20 MPG]. While any savings is a good thing, I don't think the total consumption of gas is going to be noticeably affected.)

In addition, retail, travel and tourism detest the idea of conservation. You can bet the struggling airlines don't want people to think twice about a business trip that could be accomplished with a phone call, or flying out to see Grandma once this year instead of twice. Plus, if there's a call to eliminate unnecessary trips, chances are many of those trips would be pleasure shopping jaunts that could be replaced by Amazon.com.

So you won't hear calls for actual conservation from this administration. Lots of talk about miracle tech, but nothing that would affect our current profligate lifestyles. Bush isn't serious about dealing with energy dependency, he just wants the voter on the street worried about gas prices to think he's doing something about it.

Not convinced this is a sham? Via AMERICAblog, we learn an interesting fact from the AP:

On Tuesday, Bush plans to visit the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to talk about speeding the development of biofuels.

The lab, with a looming $28 million budget shortfall, had announced it was cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers. But in advance of Bush's visit, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman over the weekend directed the transfer of $5 million to the private contractor that runs the lab, so the jobs can be saved.

The department "has been informed that the NREL lab director will use these funds to immediately restore all of the jobs that were cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls," the department said in a statement Monday.


If Dr. Alt-Fuel was serious, and not just playing dress-up again, he wouldn't be slashing alt-fuel research.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006
GrizBlogging -- Cell Phone Cam Edition
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:33 PM




(She's on top of the kitchen cabinets.)

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Friday, February 17, 2006
Perspective
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:40 AM
I've been using DOS/Windows PCs almost literally since day one -- my father worked for IBM and brought home the very first IBM PC in 1982, with a whopping 64K of RAM and a single 160K floppy drive. (An upgrade from the standard 16K and cassette port!) By the time his employee purchase was processed, they'd upgraded DOS to version 1.1, so I can't claim to have used *every* version, but you get the idea. I've seen floppy boot sector viruses, Trojans, and all sorts of nasties float by over the years.

About this time last year, I bought a Mac mini to play with, and was won over by OS X. It's more elegant, stable and secure than Windows. It's far from problem-free, but I find it much more pleasant to use than Windows (which, to be fair, has reached a fairly impressive state with XP).

I say all this to explain why I'm shaking my head with wonder at the ballyhoo over what some are calling the first OS X virus/worm/Trojan.

Anyone who thinks OS X, or any OS, is completely immune from malware is kidding themselves. Some of the most effective malware utilizes social engineering to bypass OS security, which is exactly what this thing does. The user double-clicks what they think is a JPG, and instead runs an executable that does Nasty Things. There's lots of user interface tweaking that can be done to alert the user in these cases -- Apple has done a lot, and will surely do more. (A little overlay on the icon marking it as executable, similar to the little arrow that denotes shortcuts/links, seems like a good approach.) But the root problem (no geek pun intended) is and always will be overly trusting users. You can't prevent the user from running apps, so a Trojan is always possible.

Savvy Windows users have learned this lesson -- now we're seeing previously insulated Mac users start to realize it as well. This says nothing about the relative security of Windows and OS X (OS X is better than Windows, though Windows is a lot better than it used to be -- I'm still convinced that Windows-style silently-spreading infestations are a lot less likely on OS X) and everything about the experience of the user with malware.

And it's that relative experience that I find most interesting here. Something like this is so common in the Windows world that a new one emerges literally every day, if not several times a day. Thousands of users can get hit with these and no one ever notices. I'll bet a sizable fraction of Windows PCs are currently infected with three or more distinct pieces of malware.

A single harmless Trojan (all is does is try to send itself to people via iChat, and rely on the recipient to run it) gets downloaded by a handful of people on a Mac forum, and it's front-page news on the Washington Post web site.

Welcome to the mainstream, OS X.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006
Peak Oil Watch
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:39 AM
Of course, fair music distribution in the Internet era is irrelevant if we're all dead or living in caves in a few years.

Kenneth S. Deffeyes has announced the global oil peak as having happened on December 16, 2005. He observes, "By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age."

So enjoy your illegal Bittorrent downloads while you can.

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All your songs are belong to us
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:58 AM


Today's lazy-ass post returns to a previous theme -- the RIAA as frightened animal lashing out at anything that moves, including its own customers.

Any sane observer would have to conclude that the rise of portable digital music players is an opportunity for the music industry. As people buy iPods and Rios and MP3-capable cell phones and other such gadgets my the metric ton, the content for them has to come from somewhere. Sure, some of it will be from illegal downloads, but legal downloads and ripping from CD will clearly be a substantial part of the pie. An intelligent promotion strategy, combined with quality product and reasonable pricing, should create demand for CDs as source material for portable digital music players.

Unless, of course, the RIAA were to decide that ripping CDs was illegal, further alienating music enthusiasts and driving them to illegal downloads out of frustration and enmity. Which, naturally, is exactly what they've done.

The real kicker is buried in a footnote, where the joint reply suggests the unthinkable: that making copies of CDs for any purpose may, in fact, be infringement.

Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even "routinely" granted, see C6 at 8, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright holders in the Grokster case, is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use.

Allow me to translate: just because people have been copying CDs in the past doesn't mean that they had the authorization to do so, and a general trend does not override such explicit authorization. But as the EFF has picked up, the RIAA is engaging in a little historical revision. Their last comment about the Grokster case is attempting to change the substance of comments that were uttered by their own legal counsel. Why they would do this is abundantly clear when you see the statement in question:

"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

It looks like someone is having a change of heart.


Here's the money quote from the RIAA:

The [submitted arguments in favor of granting exemptions to the DMCA] provide no arguments or legal authority that making back up copies of CDs is a noninfringing use. In addition, the submissions provide no evidence that access controls are currently preventing them from making back up copies of CDs or that they are likely to do so in the future. Myriad online downloading services are available and offer varying types of digital rights management alternatives. For example, the Apple FairPlay technology allows users to make a limited number of copies for personal use. Presumably, consumers concerned with the ability to make back up copies would choose to purchase music from a service that allowed such copying. Even if CDs do become damaged, replacements are readily available at affordable prices. Similar to the motion picture industry, the recording industry has faced, in online piracy, a direct attack on its ability to enjoy its copyrights.


Translation: You want to play a song on an iPod, you'd better buy it from iTunes, even if you already own (or are contemplating owning) the CD. Your kid trash a CD? Tough luck, buy another one. They're cheap.

I hate to keep bringing this up, because I hate being reminded of how much I've spent on music over the last 25 years, but I have probably 90+GB of music on my computer (and a subset of that on my iPod) that I've ripped from perfectly legal CDs (and LPs!). I've legally downloaded a handful of tracks. Do I feel any need whatsoever to purchase additional (inferior quality) copies of that 90+GB of ripped content? Of course not.

Of course, it's all theoretical at this stage, because standard CDs are and forever will be easily rippable. But all these pronouncements from the RIAA are in the context of a regular review of the DMCA. Therefore, the RIAA is laying the groundwork for legally inhibiting all copying of music in the future via laws and Frankenstein DRM schemes (even if such rules will be practically unenforceable, and the technology doomed to defeat).

In its rabid, fevered brain, the RIAA seems to think their content is in such demand that people will think that "iPod ripping is not fair use" makes some sort of logical sense and, more importantly, is a sound business strategy. It needs to hurry up and die its inevitable death, so we can all be spared these embarrassing death throes and get on to a fair music distribution system for the Internet era.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Not permanent, just a very long time
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:02 PM


The Nero's Fiddle "Week of Slapdash Blogging" continues, as I lazily link to interesting stories between real life obligations.

Here's a topic I've been meaning to write about for a while, but could find precious little raw material for in the media -- our plans for permanent bases in Iraq. Indeed, Tom Engelhardt writing in Salon ran into the same problem, but a couple of recent articles have filled in some of the blanks.

Even though the administration insists that we are eager to leave Iraq and hand it over to whatever fundamentalist Shiite faction we leave in charge, we are at the same time paying Halliburton billions of dollars to build at least four enormous bases that we show no sign of abandoning any time soon, in addition to an "embassy" of gargantuan proportions.

Well worth a read (and as always, you might have to endure an ad if you're not a Salon subscriber).

Among the articles Engelhardt references is this one from the Washington Post. Here's a taste:

Of the 20,000 troops at Balad, only several hundred have jobs that take them off base. Most Americans posted here never interact with an Iraqi, and some never see one, said Army Lt. Col. Larry Dotson, who is effectively the city manager. The closest some troops here come to experiencing the Iraq seen on the evening news is the miniature golf course, which mimics a battlefield with its baby sandbags, little Jersey barriers, strands of concertina wire and, down at the end of the course, what appears to be a tiny detainee cage.


How this fits in to our purported desire to "liberate" Iraq is not immediately obvious.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Ready. Fire. Aim.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:07 PM
Things are busy at the moment, so posting is light. (Blogging falls somewhere below work and family on Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs. I think that's going to be in the next edition.) And hey, the Olympics are on. There's something soothing about watching sporting events where standing-astride-the-globe glory and crushing failure are defined by milliseconds. When you're staring at that clock, excuses don't count for much.

Which brings us to the bizarre spectacle of Dick Cheney discharging a shotgun into the face of a 78-year-old man this weekend. No one paying attention was surprised when the administration that brought us "No one thought that planes could be used as weapons," "We don't know what happened to the WMDs," and "No one could have anticipated a breach of the levees," immediately burst from the gate with excuses and blame-shifting. Mary Matalin said:

He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the (rules.) He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do.


Avoiding responsibility must be pathological with this bunch. This was an honest-to-gosh accident, and Cheney is still rushing to blame the guy he shot. The jokes write themselves. My favorite so far is from Joel Achenbach:

I find the story reassuring. Cheney is a man who doesn't just talk the talk. No, if he's going to send American soldiers into harm's way, where they might be shot at any moment by a deranged fanatic, he's also going to do the same thing to his close personal friends. He's giving his hunting buddies a taste of life in the Cheney Era, when you count yourself lucky just to get out alive.


You've also got to ask yourself what kind of man enjoys having farm-raised captive birds released so he can shoot them by the hundreds. Here's an account of a 2003 Cheney hunting day:

Monday's hunting trip to Pennsylvania by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he reportedly shot more than 70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks at an exclusive private club places a spotlight on an increasingly popular and deplorable form of hunting, in which birds are pen-reared and released to be shot in large numbers by patrons. The ethics of these hunts are called into question by rank-and-file sportsmen, who hunt animals in their native habitat and do not shoot confined or pen-raised animals that cannot escape.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that 500 farm-raised pheasants were released yesterday morning at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township for the benefit of Cheney's 10-person hunting party. The group killed at least 417 of the birds, illustrating the unsporting nature of canned hunts. The party also shot an unknown number of captive mallards in the afternoon.


(Link via Firedoglake via Bennett Cerf at FLO.)

This is, apparently, fun.


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Friday, February 10, 2006
This never happened
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:01 PM

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"It's a different world now."
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:42 PM
I've been a fan of Patrick Smith's "Ask The Pilot" column on Salon for quite a while, even though I'm not an aviation geek. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his writing and viewpoints are engaging.

Today's column is especially worth reading, as it's a particularly clear illustration of something that's been bugging me (all three readers: "Yeah, what hasn't been bugging you, you whiner?"): the all-purpose excuse for more and more police-state trappings being introduced into our lives -- "It's a different world now." Is it? Who gets to decide that?

Recommended reading. You might have to sit through an ad if you're not a subscriber.

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When the cow runs dry
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:13 AM


After a State of the Union speech in which the President offered nothing new and nothing surprising, we learn that the latest round of polls offer nothing new and nothing surprising:

President Bush's approval rating has held fairly steady over the past month. The current survey, conducted over the five nights immediately following his State of the Union address, finds 40% approving of his overall job performance, compared with 38% in January. Looking back over the past six months, Bush's overall job approval has held steady, with only a slight dip to 36% in November.


But the same poll also found this:

By a 50% to 33% margin, more Americans are concerned that the government hasn't yet gone far enough in protecting the country against terrorism than are concerned that the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties. Concern about government infringement on civil liberties has remained unchanged over the past two years, and has not moved in response to the NSA spying controversy.


In fact, the fear of terror is the only thing that can nudge Bush's approval rating above 45%:

IssueApproval
Terrorist Threats53
Education43
Environment39
Job Situation38
Economy38
Iraq38
Tax Policy37
Energy Policy30
Health Care28
Budget Deficit27
Immigration23


With the midterm elections approaching, the administration is seeing its grip on Congress waver, ever so slightly, as Republicans look at numbers like those and see Bush as more of a burden than a boost.

(Of course, any sane analysis would have to point out that Bush's relevance is rapidly waning as his duck becomes lamer by the day. But the forces behind his presidency have no intention on losing their relevance, so he's still acting as though he's running again in 2008.)

So what's Bush to do? Apparently, keep tugging on Osama's udder and promoting the spying program. Today we see Dick Cheney snarling that the Democrats' cowardly refusal to violate the law in pursuit of terrorists should be used against them in the fall (as we've discussed here previously):

Speaking to Republicans gathered for the annual CPAC convention, Cheney said the debate over the National Security Agency surveillance program "has clarified where all stand" on an issue that has drawn criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.

"And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security, and how we propose to defend the nation that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love and are privileged to serve," Cheney said.


And, of course, yesterday, the President regaled us all with a tale of horror averted in 2002 when a plan to hijack a plane with shoebombs and fly it into Los Angeles' Library Tower was foiled. (Naturally, Bush insisted on calling it the "Liberty" Tower until sheepish aides corrected him, and exactly how a hijacking could be carried out with shoebombs is unclear, but it got the desired headlines regardless.)

We first got a hint of this in October, when it was one of 10 plots Bush announced had been foiled. At the time, it was described as a "West Coast attack," but no more details were offered because that would reveal vital secrets.

Now, though, it seems those secrets aren't so vital anymore (and Bush has to keep fear of terror more important than the civil liberties the terrorists supposedly threaten), so what would once compromise national security can now be used as a talking point against those who think the President should follow the law.

The thing is, though, Bush's approval rating on terror is dropping along with all his other numbers. (It's down six points from this time last year.) This cow is going to run dry eventually, and scary terror speeches will only resonate with the 30-40% of the population that would eagerly follow Bush into World War III (and wonder what's taking him so long).

So, what happens then? I've never been one of those who believes the neocons were somehow complicit in 9/11, but now that it's clear just how much terrorism enables them to pursue their agenda, I have to wonder what lengths they'd go to to keep the milk of fear flowing. After all, they're perfectly willing to sacrifice American lives in Iraq to further their policy goals. (If that sounds a little too far out, let's not forget Operation Northwoods, when a plan was drawn up, but never implemented, to stage fake terror attacks throughout the US and around Cuba to provide justification for overthrowing Castro.) If fear's all they've got left, fear is what we'll get.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Rude minds think alike
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:37 PM
The Rude Pundit is thinking along the same lines with regard to the Danish cartoon brouhaha. He actually posted first, and much more rudely, so advantage Pundit. But in any case, it's good to know that someone else sees the link between the cartoon rioters and the AFA. And he brings the Schiavo circus into it, which didn't even occur to me. That's why he makes the big bucks.

Which, by the way, he earned with this paragraph:

What's more patronizing? To tell another culture to catch the fuck up to the 21st century? Or to say that another culture is incapable of dealing with the rhetoric of the big ol' West so we should watch what we say around the children? Don't have an answer, man, not today.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Are you not entertained?
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:48 PM


Lots to catch up on as it seems Blogger is done feasting on posts. (The one from this weekend on the AFA calling the shots at NBC might be gone for good -- I wasn't thrilled with it anyway. If you missed it, you missed a killer Britney Spears photo. Your loss.)

The theme for today is bread and circuses. Or at least circuses.

1) Silly Pictures, Part One

What began as a perhaps ill-advised experiment at a small Danish newspaper now has a body count. A bunch of not-so-great cartoons depicting Muhammad have become the flash point of a series of riots across the world, with people dead and injured.

(I won't link to them, though they're not hard to find. More on why in a bit.)

I passionately believe in free speech. Freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to a "free" society, and it is not open to a vote.

A quick diversion: most people in the US don't understand the Constitution, and specifically the Bill of Rights. They think it's there to protect people from the government, which isn't exactly true. It's there to protect people from the tyranny of the majority. In other words, the primary function of the Bill of Rights is to put a check on the power of democracy itself. Even if 99% of the voters support an infringement on free speech, or free worship, or freedom from unwarranted searches, it doesn't matter. Bill of Rights protections can't be undone except through a purposely torturous process. The Founders recognized that the voting public isn't infallible, and decided certain things were above a mere show of hands.

So, in other words, in one sense, in a uniquely American sense, it doesn't matter how mad the Muslims get. People can print silly pictures of Muhammad. People can rip up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. People can even, as the lunatics in Iran are encouraging, print silly pictures about the Holocaust. There is no right not to be offended in a free society.

And that's why the State Department is a bunch of sissies:

'These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,' State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said. 'We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.'


Not acceptable? Bullshit. Not sensitive? Sure. Not a good idea? Probably. Praiseworthy? Nah. There's nothing noble or heroic about insulting someone's religion with a drawing (which is why I'm not linking), but for a government to call expressing even juvenile views "not acceptable" is totally antithetical to the "freedom" our President repeatedly extols emptily. The State Department is obviously just trying a "See, we don't hate Muslims" move here. In doing so, they place the right not to be offended above the right to offend, and that is never acceptable.

Which brings us to the rioting itself. It's all a big show, put on by the usual suspects to rile up the masses and gain cheap points with the "Arab street." Most Muslim countries (and many Muslim populations in non-Muslim countries) are wracked with povery and thus susceptible to outrage. People aren't rioting over cartoons -- they're rioting because the West sends all their money to the emirs and sheikhs for oil, leaving them with hunger and misery. Those looking to make a name for themselves as "men of the people" are fueling the riots, filling people up with anti-Western rage and turning them loose. If the rioters would actually *think* about what they're doing instead of being led around, they'd realize that the riots aren't about offense to Islam (what the hell good is a faith that crumples before a smart-ass Dane's scribblings?), but rather about gaining power for various Islamist demagogues.

It's just like (for example) how the AFA doesn't really care about Will And Grace in and of itself. But it finds Will And Grace useful as a tool to rile up moralist evangelicals, keep the donations flowing in, and flexing their muscles in the halls of power. Surely Donald Wildmon doesn't intend to give up on Jesus because NBC aired The Book Of Daniel, he just finds it a good attraction for his circus.

In a particularly noteworthy irony, the AFA, on their web site full of whining about insults to Christians, is supporting printing the cartoons and calling the riots a much-needed "wake up call" to Europe about the dangers of Islam. Wow. Pot, meet kettle.

2) Silly Pictures, Part Two

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that a recent Tom Toles cartoon was offensive in its own way. This one I'll print:



Anyone with a brain can see that the target of the cartoon is Rumsfeld, who recently insisted that the grinding casualties in Iraq have had the positive effect of making the remaining troops "battle hardened." Yet the Joint Chiefs adopted the administration strategy of equating criticism of the war and its planners with criticism of the soldiers on the ground:

While you or some of your readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, we believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.


That cartoon does not make light of "tremendous physical sacrifices." It uses the sad fact of those sacrifices to make a pointed criticism of Rumsfeld's pathetic bluster. The Joint Chiefs are creating a circus to intimidate those who disagree with the administration.

However, this is without question making light of tremendous physical sacrifice:

The last time 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV saw his body armor, he was lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered and covered in blood.

A field medic tied a tourniquet around Rebrook’s right arm to stanch the bleeding from shrapnel wounds. Soldiers yanked off his blood-soaked body armor. He never saw it again.

But last week, Rebrook was forced to pay $700 for that body armor, blown up by a roadside bomb more than a year ago.

He was leaving the Army for good because of his injuries. He turned in his gear at his base in Fort Hood, Texas. He was informed there was no record that the body armor had been stripped from him in battle.

He was told to pay nearly $700 or face not being discharged for weeks, perhaps months.


I respectfully suggest the Joint Chiefs clean up their own damn house before lecturing Toles on proper respect for servicemen.

3) The President Will Never Break The Law Because Nothing The President Does Is Illegal

The biggest circus of the past few days, though, must be the questioning (pointedly not under oath) of Attorney General Gonzales yesterday in the Senate. Far from an attempt to shed light on the activities of the administration, it quickly became obvious that the purpose of this little entertainment was to give Gonzales a stage from which to spew talking points for later replay on the news shows. In this way, the theme of "Democrats don't want to spy on bin Laden" will be reinforced, making sure it's assimilated into the mass consciousness in time for the midterm elections.

I must tip my hat to the White House for the way they can turn a hideous abuse of power into a talking point to make the left look weak on terror.

Probably the most interesting part of the hearing came when Gonzales insisted that his statements (to the effect that the Bush White House would never covertly undermine or bypass existing law) at his confirmation hearing to Russ Feingold were in fact truthful, because he doesn't think Bush violated FISA. This is, to put it mildly, rather nervy, since it's nearly impossible to conclude that Bush did not violate FISA -- the question is only whether or not he had the authority to violate FISA. In essence, Gonzales was arguing that Bush simply cannot violate the law, since anything he does is by definition legal.

In other words, Bush could walk out on Pennsylvania Avenue, grab some homeless guy and shoot him in the head live on Fox News, claim that he had "darn good intelligence" (which of course he can't share) that the guy was an al Qaeda agent, and be immune from any consequences.

Not that anyone was paying attention, of course. All you'll hear from the media is how "Gonzales defended the terrorist surveillance program" or some such mush.

Other highlights:

President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.


This is hilarious in two ways. The first is obvious, but the second is a little more subtle -- FISA was passed in 1978 (in response to the excesses of the Nixon administration), so none of those Presidents were bound by it.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

General, how has this revelation damaged the program?

I'm almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls.

I mean, I'm a little confused. How did it damage this?

GONZALES: Well, Senator, I would first refer to the experts in the Intel Committee who are making that statement, first of all. I'm just the lawyer.

And so, when the director of the CIA says this should really damage our intel capabilities, I would defer to that statement. I think, based on my experience, it is true -- you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance.

But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.


It's a new kind of treason, giving aid, comfort and reminders to the enemy.

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Monday, February 06, 2006
Bloggered
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:06 AM
Good gravy. This is the third time I've made this post in the last three days -- perhaps it will stick this time. Blogger is apparently having big problems at the moment. Posts and comments are dropping like Jerramy Stevens catches. Again, if your comments went away, it's not me going power-mad. Honest.

More later if things look like they've calmed down. I really want to talk about this "blasphemous cartoon" thing, if the site can stay up long enough.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006
Toasty
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:59 AM
Rosabelle likes warm things.


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Friday, February 03, 2006
Misty watercolor memories
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:12 PM
To wrap up a week of obsessing over Bush's SOTU, let's go back in time a year and a half and review his acceptance speech at the RNC. Here's a piece I wrote at the time (the hope of unseating the little emperor gave me the strength to go through the whole thing in detail, which I just don't have the heart do do any more):

Overlong response to 2004 RNC speech

Interesting how not much has changed.

Except Kerry screwed up, and we have to listen to the same damn speech for another three years.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006
Running out of steam (Part 2)
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:01 PM
While the President seems energized and engaged talking about his Pax Americana and impending defeat of global tyranny, his administration is the one that can't seem to make the trains run on time. (I guess he skipped that part of the playbook.) Indeed, the second half of the SOTU, dealing with domestic policy, was a simple laundry list of recycled ideas, pipe dreams, head scratchers and total bullshit.

Perhaps underscoring this rhetorical limpness, his speechwriters front-loaded this section with the words "strengthening," "healthly," "vigorous," "growing faster," and "performance that is the envy of the world" all in the first two paragraphs. I half-expected "Bob" from the "natural male enhancement" commercials to run onto the podium and wave a jaunty hello.

Bush made an attempt at a unifying theme:

Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy.


.. but this was half-hearted at best. So let's look at his "to do" list.

I urge the Congress to act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent.


He can dress this up in "helping the working man" clothes all day long, but that doesn't change the fact that this massive giveaway has done more damage to the government's fiscal health than anything in recent memory (including Reagan). Want an example? Remember the big Social Security panic last year, where Bush went on the road to convince everyone that SS was doomed and that people should dump their money in the stock market instead? Well, here's an interesting little chart:



Rolling back just a portion of the Bush tax cuts would fund Social Security well into the 22nd century. But that doesn't help the rich, to whom tax breaks are worth more than SS. And it doesn't help the big brokerage houses eager to make money off Bush's "personal accounts" model (which would actually have left SS in worse shape than doing nothing at all).

But the Bush privatization plan died a quick death (which Bush ruefully noted Tuesday night to sarcastic cheers from the usually spineless left of the chamber). So let's move on.

Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending.  This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.  By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.


It goes without saying that we had budget surpluses before Bush took over. But beyond that, Bush portraying himself as some sort of tight-fisted deficit hawk is laughable. (Invented history? Indeed.)

Here's how much I love you people. I went to the Office of Management and Budget site, where you can download Excel spreadsheets of all the mind-numbing tables from the President's budget documents. I picked the historical numbers, in constant dollars (so inflation's not a factor). I then created a friendly bar graph:



Notice what happened to tax revenue when Bush took over. Notice what happened to spending. Notice the ever-deepening hole we're creating for ourselves and the generations a-comin'.

Here's the painful part. The House just submitted a budget slashing $39 billion over five years from student loans, Medicare, Medicaid and farm subsidies, which Bush seems thrilled about. Yet they're getting ready to pass $70 billion in tax cuts over the same period. I don't think you need a graph to see where this is going.

What about the really big items in the budget, like Social Security and Medicare? His plan to gut Social Security in tatters, Bush unveiled a bold new initiative:

So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.


Applause, applause, applause.

On other subjects, Bush endorsed finding a way to let companies hire cheap Mexican labor without worrying about the INS:

And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.


The pre-speech hype suggested that we would hear a lot about health care. But the actual speech didn't have much, and what was there was seven kinds of vague. Here is every last word on health care:
 
Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care.  Our government has a responsibility to provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility. For all Americans -- for all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship, and help people afford the insurance coverage they need.

We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors.  We will strengthen health savings accounts -- making sure individuals and small business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get. We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance.  And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice -- leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN -- I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.


This is the exact same mumbo-jumbo he's been pushing in the last several SOTU speeches. His only policy proposals seem to be health savings accounts (Otherwise known as the "you're on your own, good luck" plan -- how someone who can't afford health care in the first place is supposed to benefit from a savings account for health care is a mystery. It's like opening a checking account for a guy without a job.) and the ever-popular liability reform, which protects insurance company profits at the expense of malpractice victims' rights.

Then there was the big headline-grabber:

And here we have a serious problem:  America is addicted to oil[...]

[N]ew technologies will help us reach another great goal:  to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.


I was all set to rail about how misleading all this was and much of our imports come from outside the Middle East and work up a really good head of steam...

But then the White House said, "Ha! Just kidding! We didn't really mean it!" (See post below.) So never mind, then.

The man who embraces intelligent design theory, rejects global warming and censors any mention of it from goverment reports, and has crippled American genetic research with his pandering to the religious right then called for better science education:

First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years[...]

[W]e need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations.


Of course, he got in a quick shot in the culture wars, bashing "activist courts" who want to "redefine marriage," then lauded Roberts and Alito, followed by the Manimal Strategy.

Then, buried like a footnote, a brief mention of the complete devastation of a major American city:

So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees.  We're providing business loans and housing assistance.


That's it, then he segued into some half-baked education and AIDS babble that his heart clearly wasn't in. Unlike 9/11, this disaster didn't further Bush's agenda, so he clearly wishes it would just go away. There's really no other way to interpret this. He spent more time talking about his cherished illegal wiretaps than about the wrecking of New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of lives.

And that's pretty much it, apart from some closing guff about how he's like Lincoln and Martin Luther King as the Congresspeople angled for the best spot in the glad-handing line. Then off to bed, to sleep the sleep of the just.

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Don't believe the hype
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:04 AM
I haven't even had time to dissect the domestic policy half of the SOTU, and part of it (one of my favorites) has already been disowned by the White House.

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.


(The whole article is worth a read, and makes some points similar to those Dob made in comments last night. I like the part where the president of Americans for Energy Independence says that alternative fuel sources are great, but conservation is a good idea, too.)

Why did they back off this pledge so quickly? There's a big clue in today's New York Times.

Diplomatically, Mr. Bush's ambitious call for the replacement of 75 percent of the United States' Mideast oil imports with ethanol and other energy sources by 2025 upset Saudi Arabia, the main American oil supplier in the Persian Gulf. In an interview on Wednesday, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said he would have to ask Mr. Bush's office "what he exactly meant by that."


Oops.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The State of the Union is: Imaginary (Part 1)
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:17 PM


One of the administration's favorite rhetorical devices over the last five years has been the straw man. Faced with the unenviable task of defending its policies, it consistently has chosen to instead attack imaginary enemies of its own construction. Sometimes it describes situations that clearly do not exist in the "reality-based" world.

This year's State of the Union address was a master class on the technique. I've already discussed the Manimal Strategy, in which Bush ignored the complex scientific and ethical issues and scored easy points with his base by attacking unnamed, cackling, Dr. Moreau-ish mad scientists creating "human-animal hybrids."

Here's some more interesting examples from last night:

In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people ... the only way to secure the peace ... the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership -- so the United States of America will continue to lead.


Bush returned to this theme many times over the course of the evening. If you oppose his foreign policy, he suggested, you must be an isolationist! Why, it's self-evident! The irony, of course, is that Bush's is one of the most insular and unilateral foreign policies in history. He cares not for what others think -- he does what he wants. This is sort of the evil twin of isolationism. The concept of engaging with the world rather than dicating to it is sadly not in his repertoire.

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal -- we seek the end of tyranny in our world.


Translation: If you oppose me, you like tyranny. Bush's base loves this kind of ridiculous cowboy talk. What, there's tyranny? We oughta do something about that! Get a posse together!

On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country.


Here's Bush at his most disingenuous. Over and over, he insists that 9/11 Changed Everything in completely ludicrous ways. "We couldn't rely on the oceans to protect us!" Funny, I don't recall oceans being considered an effective defense against Soviet ICBMs. Here, he boosts his attack on phantom "isolationism" by claiming that US disinterest in world affairs caused 9/11, when anyone paying attention could tell you that it was our *non*-isolationist foreign policy that al Qaeda was gaining legitimacy by denouncing. At the risk of pounding the point into the the ground, he's inventing history to suit his agenda.

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam -- the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death.


Another classic. While I have no interest in defending the tactics of terrorists, any honest observer would have to concede that their motives are more complicated than "hating freedom." Did Tim McVeigh "hate freedom"? Does the sniper hiding outside the abortion clinic simply "hate freedom"? Shifting gears, does someone who supports a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage "hate freedom"? It's a convenient shorthand to make his foreign policy seem remotely coherent, but that's about it.

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone.


More criticism of the imaginary "give bin Laden a hug" advocates. In Bushland, the choice is not among different ways to confront terror, the choice is support Bush's way or endorse terror.

He goes on like this at length -- "leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself", "we will never surrender to evil", and so on. None of it is new, of course, but it's all he has. What he and his followers see as stirring rhetoric is in reality an attack on a position no one is advocating.

Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.


In another lengthy section of the speech, Bush paints a rosy picture of Iraq that seems completely at odds with the continuing mayhem and sectarian strife. 47% of Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops. Of course, noting such things is not goodthink:

[T]here is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.


The lines between arrogance, delusion and megalomania blur deliriously.

After that, there's a maudlin tribute to one of the soldier's killed in Bush's elective war and a laundry list of supposed democratic successes in the Middle East, including the hilarious notion that Saudi Arabia is taking "the first steps of reform." (He also stumbles through a warning to the democratically elected Hamas party that they'd better shape up.)

If that weren't enough, he makes his almost gleeful contempt for us clear as glass by hauling out a warning to Iran cut-and-pasted from the 2003 SOTU speech:

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon -- and that must come to an end.

The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions -- and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.


I have to admit after that my attention wavered, as I was distracted somewhat by thrusting my head into the wall. From reviewing the transcript, it seems that he promised the same foreign aid package he's hyped for years now, before launching into a defense of domestic spying, which we've covered more than adequately over the last couple of weeks.

Finally, the foreign policy section wraps up with an odd statement:

American leaders -- from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan -- rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.


Odd, because it's widely assumed that Reagan's capitulation after the Beirut barracks bombing was a great morale boost for Arab terror. But whatever, reality has nothing to do with this. It's just empty noise to lull the base into a blissful state of righteousness and boost GOP candidates in the fall elections.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the domestic policy half of the speech, as freshly minted Supreme Court Justice Alito lurks in the crowd.

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Manimal
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:29 PM


Lots coming on the SOTU speech later tonight or tomorrow. For veteran BushWatchers, there wasn't a whole lot new, but then again BushWatchers find the most meaning in the ebb and flow of repeated phrases floating through George's substance-abuse-enfeebled consciousness.

As a teaser, though, there's this:

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research -- human cloning in all its forms -- creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.


I must admit that the threat of human-animal hybrids wasn't high on my list of worries, but I'm grateful to the President for pointing it out. (And what if these human-animal hybrids allied themselves with bin Laden? Radical Muslim lemur-men? A suicide bomber with the regenerative abilities of a gecko? Gosh! I might have to rethink my opposition to warrantless wiretaps in light of this new threat.)

Here's what I think happened. Inexplicably, the president has shown commendable taste in television science-fiction, reportedly being a fan of the excellent Babylon 5. If this holds, he's probably watching the (possibly even more excellent) Battlestar Galactica, even though it's on past his bedtime.

A couple weeks ago, the character of the President on that show advocated terminating the gestation of a Cylon-human hybrid. After there were objections, she said, "The interesting thing about being President is that you don't have to explain yourself to anybody." This is an almost direct quote from Bush, as quoted in Woodward's Bush at War: "I'm the commander -- see, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president."

I'll bet Bush was so enthused about being quoted on Battlestar that he resolved to work something into his speech about protecting us from genetic hybrids.

Well, it could have happened like that...

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