Saturday, January 20, 2007

Goodbye, Cruel World... NOT!

I am not departing the world of blogging, but I am departing the land of Blogger.

Come check out my new digs!

has generously volunteered his time to get it up and running and generally awesome-looking, and I will be forever grateful.

Please update any bookmarks, blogrolls, blog readers, or RSS readers you might have.

And if you don't have Multi Medium on any of your bookmarks or blogrolls or blog readers, you should. The new URL is 23% shorter, so it's that much easier to add.

Fort Tilden Photoblogging

After having passed through Jacob Riis Park, I arrived at now-abandoned Fort Tilden, hoping to take pictures of abandoned, decrepit stuff, and maybe some bunkers. But I found more. A lot more.

Opposite directions.

Reflection in a puddle.

This probably qualifies as some kind of flag desecration, but oh well.

"...But why do you ask, Eighteen Seals Humping?" Posted by Picasa

What's The Plan?

No, not our plan - I mean Osama's plan. Obviously it hinges on provoking the United States into increasingly irrational and violent actions, and has the ultimate goal of turning the Middle East, and ultimately the entire world, into one giant Islamic superstate.

But what's in between? Is it simply to use our desperate and clumsy flailing to attract new recruits and destabilize and radicalize the region, or does he expect to topple the United States to remove our military and economic power from the playing field? The Bush administration has certainly been playing into Osama's hands beautifully in terms of destabilization and radicalization, but is the second part realistic?

The reason I ask is, I think Osama is in for a disappointment if he believes the U.S. will implode like the Soviet Union did. I'm not saying that it's not impossible for our form of government to change, as the Soviet Union's did - but I don't believe it will happen in a way that is beneficial to al Qaeda. Yes, changes in government caused the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Iraq to collapse and break apart, but they started out totalitarian and moved towards, well, the general direction of democracy. These were countries were the absolute authority of the state was the only force holding them together.

Now consider the U.S. The 2006 midterm elections were a huge positive, but if the Bush Republicans are not permanently removed from power (whether through polls or criminal proceedings), there is always a chance that they could pick up where they left off, and gradually transform the country into a fascist dictatorship - or perhaps not so gradually, if they get another excuse to claim "emergency powers." The problem with this, from an al Qaeda perspective, is that the U.S. wouldn't actually collapse. There might be a slight possibility of revolt, but I think it would be more like Germany in the 30s, where a combination of complacency, xenophobic hysteria, and sheer disbelief allowed the Nazis to incrementally acquire absolute power.

But instead of the unifying boogeyman being Jewish, he would be Muslim. A totalitarian America would be a powerful, unhinged, and implacable enemy of Islam, unbound by any checks and balances or concern for international law. One possible scenario: All pretense of trying to turn Iraq into a democracy is abandoned, and the draft is reinstated to acquire enough troops to impose martial law there. I don't think even the neocons would be insane enough to declare war on the entire region at once, so they use bogus provocations to pick the Middle Eastern countries off one by one (possibly even using nukes), until/unless the rest of the world finally bands together to stop us, at great cost to themselves.

I scares me that I'm pretty sure I just described every neocon's most cherished secret wet dream, at least up until that last part. But to get back to my original question: Is that Osama's plan? To have the U.S. lay waste to huge swaths of the Middle East and elsewhere before getting taken down, and then swoop in to pick up the pieces and take advantage of the global power vacuum? Or does he think the U.S. will just collapse under its own weight like his last nemesis did? Or does he just not care what happens to the U.S., as long as it keeps pushing the Muslim world into his arms?

Sentences I Never Thought I'd Type

"I appear to be ranked 11th for panda milk frog."

Friday, January 19, 2007

NYC Birdblogging

Some bird photos from Jacob Riis Park.

The Council has spoken. There is no appeal.

Flying in black & white...

Flying in color...

Just back away veeerrrry slowly and don't make eye contact. Posted by Picasa

Quote Of The Day

Kung Fu Monkey:
...Cheney and Gonzales have dropped the Constitution into a hole in the White House basement and are currently dancing naked around the pit, penises tucked between their legs, screaming "It rubs the lotions on its Amendments!" at the shuddering, terrified document, and there's nary a peep.
Now that's speaking my language.

Please Tell Me I Did Not Just Read This...

From an op-ed in today's NYT about how Solomonic and groovy Dubya's stem cell "compromise" was:
...The human embryo is a human organism, but is this being — microscopically small, with no self-awareness and little resemblance to us — a person, with a right to life?

Many advocates of federal financing for embryo-destructive research begin from a negative answer to that question. They argue that the human embryo is just too small, too unlike us in appearance, or too lacking in consciousness or sensitivity to pain or other critical mental capacity to be granted a place in the human family. But surely America has learned the hard way not to assign human worth by appearances. And surely we would not deny those who have lost some mental faculties the right to be regarded with respect and protected from harm. Why should we deny it to those whose faculties are still developing?

Um. Did he just argue that being an embryo is akin to having a disability? That it's shallow to discriminate against embryos simply because they're about as big as rice and don't have functioning brains?

Who the hell is this jackass?

Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Oh. Right, then. Carry on, you're doing a heckuva job.

Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

This week's quote is from a movie called Girl, starring Dominique Swain, whose main claim to fame was starring in the Adrian Lyne remake of Lolita. She became unnecessary when Kirsten Dunst appeared.
Well, when you've had as much disappointment and humiliation as I have, you learn to accept it with a certain amount of grace.

And, of course, there'll be other people's cats...

The shadowy and mysterious Codename B. looking content and slightly belligerent.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

B&W Beach Photoblogging

Yes, Jacob Riis Park has a beach, and, well, it's rather dismal. Hopefully it's a lot nicer in the summer...

Apparently I am not the last photographer on Earth.

I like drinking fountains, especially defunct ones.

I guess this is not exactly a surprise...

Um, seriously, I think something terrible has happened to the lifeguards... Posted by Picasa

Narrative Shift Alert!

The good news is that everything that happens is no longer good for Republicans.

The bad news is that everything that happens is good for the DLC.

I don't mind bipartisanship up to a point; that point being "selling out to the Republicans to such a degree that you end up on the same side." So far, it looks like the reverse is happening: Dubya and his vanity war have generated so much ill will and mistrust for the Republicans and their policies that most Americans really want the Democrats to take the wheel for a while. Even if they can't steer us away from the cliff, they can at least kick the leaden Republican foot off of the accelerator.

Thanks to last November's anti-Bush referendum, many Congressional Republicans are now beginning to recognize this shift, and are jockeying for seats on the anti-Bush, anti-war bandwagon. "Bipartisanship" now means Republicans opposing an unpopular president to save their own skins. This is especially true of those Republicans up for re-election next year - the prospect of facing the voters tends to concentrate the mind.

Where Edsall and his DLC, establishment, "Money Party" cronies come in is to push the narrative that Democrats need to push a mushy, cautious, centrist agenda to lure on-the-fence Republicans over. While this would certainly get a lot of legislation passed, most of it wouldn't be worth the paper the lobbyists printed it on.

Edsall & Co's mistake is to underestimate the extent of the shift, and to misread what America voted for last year. I believe they voted for an agenda of change, integrity, accountability, and opposition (CIAO), and will not be satisfied with half-measures. Instead of tacking and triangulating and trying to figure out what Republicans will vote for, Democrats need to push for what their constituents (their citizen constituents) want and need. The Republicans can either get on board with them or try to explain their opposition in 2008 or 2010.

The Democrats haven't had an opportunity like this in 30 years - I don't want to see them squander it with needless capitulation.


How sad is it that when I read something like this, I find myself trying to figure out what category I'm in, rather than the people around me? I think "Hostile-Aggressive" was the only one I could definitively rule out - I'm more "Hostile-Passive." I guess I don't really have to worry about being "Super-Agreeable" either...

There are people that annoy me, but what annoys me doesn't really fit into any of those categories.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

NYC Day 2 Photoblogging

I know I've been photoblogging for more than two days, but now I'm photoblogging pictures from my second day in NYC.

Utility pole! I live for this stuff.

I took a whole bunch of pictures of planes, not-exactly-trains, boats, and helicopters. This was one of the few that wasn't total crap.

I think the trees are powering up for their attack.

Welcome to sunny, scenic Jacob Riis Park! I think this is, like, the only tree.

Thanks, Arlen!

Republican Congress votes to give President Gore/Clinton/Obama/Edwards/Clark the power to replace U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval.

They could make it awfully uncomfortable for Dubya and his cronies. Unless the Republican plan is to have their tame U.S. Attorneys prosecute corrupt Republicans really ineptly (but comprehensively) so they'll be immunized by the principle of double jeopardy.

Probably not a great re-election strategy, but neither is going to prison.

(h/t Atrios)

Juxtaposition Of The Week

Right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds in yesterday's NYT:
...Kennesaw, Ga... in 1982 passed a mandatory gun ownership law in response to a handgun ban passed in Morton Grove, Ill. Kennesaw’s crime dropped sharply, while Morton Grove’s did not.

To some degree, this is rational. Criminals, unsurprisingly, would rather break into a house where they aren’t at risk of being shot. As David Kopel noted in a 2001 article in The Arizona Law Review, burglars report that they try to avoid homes where armed residents are likely to be present. We see this phenomenon internationally, too, with the United States having a lower proportion of “hot” burglaries — break-ins where the burglars know the home to be occupied — than countries with restrictive gun laws.

Likewise, in the event of disasters that leave law enforcement overwhelmed, armed citizens can play an important role in stanching crime. Armed neighborhood watches deterred looting in parts of Houston and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Precisely because an armed populace can serve as an effective backup for law enforcement, the ownership of firearms was widely mandated during Colonial times, and the second Congress passed a statute in 1792 requiring adult male citizens to own guns.

Daniel Pearl's mother in today's NYT:
IN late 2001, three months before my son, the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped, he interviewed the influential Qatari cleric Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and asked him about suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. The sheik replied with a novel twist of logic. “Israeli society in general is armed,” he said, implying that Israeli civilians — including women and children, doctors and journalists — are legitimate targets.


Money quote from today's NYT lead editorial:
If General Qanbar and Mr. Maliki plan to continue shielding militias like the Mahdi Army, this new drive will be doomed before it begins.
This is not an if, it's a certainty. Maliki is only in power because Sadr allows him to be, and the Bushies either don't notice or don't care. Any move to take on Sadr is doomed to failure, especially if it depends on one of his clients for success.

The three most plausible explanations I can think of for this doomed approach are:

1) Stupidity and incompetence. This can never be ruled out.

2) Looking busy. The administration wants to look like they're taking bold decisive action while they run out the clock so Iraq becomes President Gore's problem ("How's that for an inconvenient truth? In your face, Captain Nerdboy! Heheheh.").

3) Provocation. Create a military disaster that you can blame on Iran, so you have an excuse to bomb some democracy and gratitude into them.

A few thousand troops is a small price to pay for Dubya to finally achieve his lifelong goal of nuking the shit out of somebody. I'm sure the troops will be happy to make the ultimate sacrifice so that their president can experience a momentary erection. We could call it Operation Die-agra.

Wednesday Why-I-Love-The-Weekly-World-News Blogging

As an environmentalist, I find this story rather disconcerting:
MANHATTAN, N.Y.--The mermaid Azura surprised the Clean Seas Institute by announcing her people's extreme displeasure with the anti-pollution group's activities.

"Pollution provides the basis of many Mer-technologies," she said. "You know, we still haven't discovered fire down there."

She explained that the sea-people rely on "reverse-archaeology," wherein advanced societies' artifacts rain from above for use in mer-civilization.

"Your license plates accelerated our development of literacy, and your soda-can rings provided our first currency," she said.

"Abandoned cans and fishing lines have given us telecommunications," she went on.

Weakened by her sojourn on dry land, Azura accepted no questions before leaving the bewildered activists.

"We're used to resistance from big business," said Walter Hargen, a spokesman for Clean Seas. "But to be reprimanded by the fish themselves--that's taken the wind out of our sails."

Clearly, we all have some hard thinking to do.

In political news, the WWN is reporting that Hillary has named Bigfoot as her running mate, but I'm very skeptical - she hasn't even been nominated yet.

Don't Feed The Damn Trolls!

I'm not entirely sure why this resurfaced six months later on NYT, but I've actually been conditioned to do this since childhood, when my parents counseled me that the best way to deal with teasing was to completely ignore it. I became (and largely remain) Mr. Non-Responsive, and that actually worked pretty damn well.

Does that mean it's good science? Probably not...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stinky Flower Mystery Solved! Also, The Moths Are STEALING YOUR TEARS!!!

Courtesy of Jeremy Holden

Fun from the NYT's Tuesday Science section:

A spurge that smells like death
Rafflesia arnoldii is no shrinking violet. At up to three feet in diameter, it’s the world’s largest flower. It’s also possibly the most repulsive — it looks and smells like rotting flesh (the better to attract flies, which act as pollinators).

But while Rafflesia may be easy to describe, it has been much harder to classify. It’s a parasite, embedding itself in vines in the understory of pristine rainforests in Indonesia, and it lacks the roots, stems, leaves and photosynthesizing machinery that would give scientists a clue as to its evolutionary background.


...Dr. [Charles C.] Davis and colleagues have done more genetic research to solve the puzzle. Their conclusion, published online by the journal Science, is that the Rafflesiaceae, as this family of species is known, are nestled within the spurge family, which includes rubber plants, castor, cassava and poinsettia. “They are smack dab in the middle,” Dr. Davis said.

In some ways this is a surprise, because spurges are so well known. On the other hand, Dr. Davis said, the Rafflesiaceae “are so off on their own trip that their position within any group would require some explaining.”


“These plants flower in understory rainforest environments, which are dimly lit, so they are not easily seen by pollinators,” Dr. Davis said. “They would have had incredible incentive to increase their surface area, to maximize odor production and bring in these pollinators.”

Beware the moths, especially if you're a sad clown

Moths and butterflies obtain moisture wherever they can find it — in Africa, Asia and South America, even from the tears of mammals and reptiles. But until now, no moth or butterfly has been seen drinking tears from a bird.

Roland Hilgartner of the University of Ulm in Germany and colleagues observed a species of moth in Madagascar, Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica, that alights on the neck of a sleeping magpie or Newtonia bird and sticks its long proboscis between the bird’s closed eyelids. Moths were observed in this position for 30 minutes or longer, presumably drinking the bird’s tears. The finding was reported in Biology Letters.

The moth’s proboscis is about half an inch long (about half the moth’s length), with a sharp point and many tiny spines and barbs. The researchers suggest that it functions somewhat like a harpoon, because it has to go not only between upper and lower eyelids, but also through the bird’s nictitating membrane, which further protects the eyes.

Beaks? Moths with beaks?

Three's Company + Islam = Profit!

I'm probably overly simple-minded, but I think this sounds like a good thing:
When it comes to producing a funny television show or movie in Canada, producers here have a reliable stable of topics: French-English relations, urban-rural dynamics and anything that involves a bumbling politician or the United States.

But Islam — something of a third rail of comedy throughout the Western world — did not make the list, which is one reason the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s new situation comedy, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” is attracting such attention here. “It is a risk doing a sitcom about what can be considered a very touchy subject,” said Kirstine Layfield, executive director of network programming at CBC.

But last Tuesday’s series premiere attracted 2.09 million viewers, impressive in a country where an audience of one million is a runaway hit. The CBC had not had a show draw that size audience in a decade, according to the network.

The show follows a small group of Muslims in, of all places, a prairie town in Saskatchewan where, in the first episode, the group was trying to establish a mosque in the parish hall of a church. A passer-by, seeing the group praying, rushes to call a “terrorist hot line” to report Muslims praying “just like on CNN,” which touches off a local firestorm.

Hoping to avoid making a stir in the town, the group hires a Canadian-born imam from Toronto who quits his father’s law firm to take the job — career suicide, his father thinks. On the way, he is detained in the airport after being overheard on his cellphone saying, “If Dad thinks that’s suicide, so be it,” adding, “This is Allah’s plan for me.”

Later, a leader of the Muslim group is seen defending to a local person the plan to turn the parish hall into a mosque. “It’s a pilot project,” he says, leading the man to exclaim wide-eyed, “You’re training pilots?!”


The show’s creator, Zarqa Nawaz, said that she was not trying to bridge all of the cultural gaps, but that she hoped the program could elicit laughs on all sides and perhaps foster a better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“I want the broader society to look at us as normal, with the same issues and concerns as anyone else,” said Ms. Nawaz, who based the series loosely on her own experiences as a Muslim woman who moved from Toronto to the prairie. “We’re just as much a part of the Canadian fabric as anyone else.”


The show has generally been well received by Muslim leaders, who welcome the light touch it brings to issues that are normally debated in numbing seriousness.

“Muslims are a bit late in laughing at themselves, but we have to use humor to remedy these divisions, just like any community,” said Mohamed Elmasry, an imam and president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

The show has been criticized for treating too lightly the threat posed by radical Islam and the imams who preach it. The newly hired imam in “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” Amaar Rashid, is clean-shaven, wears tight jeans and has the “ravishing looks of a soap-opera star,” as the columnist Margaret Wente wrote in the Toronto daily newspaper The Globe and Mail.

“If there’s an imam on Earth who resembles this one, I will convert to Islam, don the veil and catch the next plane to Mecca,” she added.
Niiice. I see the Canadian right-wing is every bit as classy as our own.
But what some see as a weakness, others see as a strength. Syed Asad Dean, chairman of the Meadowvale Islamic Center in Mississauga, a western suburb of Toronto, said portraying Muslims as moderate members of the mainstream could have a beneficial effect on young Muslims.

“More extreme Muslims are telling our youth that Canada is not interested in our community, so something like this works dead against that type of mentality,” he said. “The youth see it on television and say, hey, they recognize us and they actually made an investment to talk about us and our life in Canada.”


In the United States, only cable stations have responded so far, but CBC officials say they are hoping to pitch the show to the larger networks.
I really hope this show gets picked up in the U.S. What I like most about it (admittedly, based on a handful of gags quoted in a news story) is that it pokes much-deserved fun at anti-Muslim paranoia. Because people who see all Arabs as potential terrorists, and who feel threatened every time they hear someone speaking Arabic are silly at best, and bigoted at worst. It sounds like this show is trying to counter that mentality by showing Muslims as just folks, who happen to dress differently and worship a different God (or the same God under a different name). I'll go out on a limb here and say that most Muslims do not hate Christians, are not plotting jihad, and are not serving some sort of sinister hidden agenda.

I'm not advocating a total lack of vigilance, just pointing out that if you think there's a terrorist plot unfolding before your eyes every time you see a couple of Muslims talking, then you might as well cower indoors every time it rains so that the lightning won't get you. Just use some common sense. For example, if you see a scruffy, disreputable figure furtively skulking around a skyscraper or industrial installation taking pictures... well, okay, it's probably me. But if it isn't, then use your own best judgment (no gunplay!). If you're not sure, try to distract them with chocolate or techno-gadgets.

B&W UNISPHERE Photoblogging

I don't think there's actually any convention that requires "UNISPHERE" to be spelled with all caps - I just feel like it should be pronounced in the most portentous way possible.

Unfortunately, my battery ran out before I could get all the shots I wanted, and my backup battery appears to have a serious leak. I tried to get the shots with my wee backup camera, but the results were mixed. Those shots might appear in a separate post sometime, who knows.

Behold, the power of the UNISPHERE!

The metal Horn Of Africa.

Excelsior! Posted by Picasa

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Excellent. I like "Onset sexual debut number."

UPDATE: Heh. I just got a spam titled "Stinky flower mystery solved." Apparently the mystery has something to do with stock tips.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Eli's Obsession With The Google

#1 search result for naked bakers.

#3 search result for bush sociopathic liar.


Random NYC Photoblogging: Reloaded

Let's try that again...

It's all, like, symbolic and stuff.

I don't think there can ever be enough portraits of NYC pigeons.

Leaving the general Shea Stadium/Arthur Ashe Stadium zone, on my way to the UNISPHERE, and a rendezvous with Thers and NYMary at the Queens Museum Of Art. Posted by Picasa

Stepping On The Butterfly

I have really enjoyed watching spocko's message spread after ABC/Disney tried to shut him down, only to have it blow up in their face. First second- and third-tier liberal blogs took up the cause, then top-tier ones, then local media, and now national media, in the person of the still-somewhat-esteemed NY Times, which reported on the KSFO "Hate Hot Talk" hosts' not-real-successful 3-hour on-air attempt to justify and explain (and very occasionally apologize for) the racist and violent comments spocko caught them red-handed with. And I'm betting that the story will jump to national broadcast media when Countdown airs tonight.

As d r i f t g l a s s points out, perhaps the most significant effect of all this is to put a spotlight on the hate speech that the "personalities" on the extremes of the right have been peddling for the past decade or so. More than that, I am desperately hoping that this will kickstart the long-overdue process of identifying the Limbaughs and Savages and Coulters and Becks as the fringe-dwelling right-wing kooks they are, rather than respected opinionmakers whose words should be taken seriously and nodded thoughtfully about.

Unfortunately, as long as the media is owned by enormous, pro-Republican corporations, this kind of sea change will be a tough sell, but it is possible. For as in-the-tank as the corporate media is, it only has value as long as it has credibility. If they realize that the vast majority of the American people are utterly repelled by these creatures, they will be forced to padlock them in the mad cellar.

In addition to the delicious prospect of never being presented with Coulter or Limbaugh as Serious People To Be Listened To, I am also tickled by the thought of being able to beat the Republican Party to death into submission into a pleasurable state of happy friendliness with their own hobnailed club fluffy pillow of civility. Because after this exposure, it's going to be awfully hard for the right-wing to argue that it's us dirty hippies who are shrill and full of hate. Not that that will stop them, of course...

Uncharacteristic Dose Of Cuteness

I was searching for something entirely different in the SF Chronicle, and I got kinda sidetracked...

Baby milk frog!

Baby panda!


Monday Media Blogging

This is a bit premature, but I wanted to post it before it got pulled again:

We're not here to start no trouble, we're just here to do the Superbowl Shuffle.

And for those of you who don't like to watch pro athletes (Gary Fencik!) attempting to rap, here's a Japanese music video of Ronald McDonald in an epic kung fu battle versus convenience store employees:

(From Japan Probe, by way of Kyklops)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Yet Another Reason Vietnam Was Bad

If not for Vietnam, LBJ gets elected to a second term, and perhaps Nixon never becomes president at all, and the idea of presidential impunity never finds a precedent.

Also: The dirty hippies of the left don't get scapegoated for losing a useless war.

It's not like anyone can say that Vietnam taught us a valuable lesson about not rushing into ill-advised wars of choice.

Oh... Joy.

Any time you see the Spanish Civil War offered up as a best-case scenario, you know the situation has to be pretty bad...
Mr. Bush has now scaled back his strategy for victory to a strategy for the best-we-can-hope-for. So, it must be asked, what exactly is the best we can hope for?

“In the best-case scenario, we’ll be in Iraq for 15 or 20 years,” said Stephen Biddle, author of “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.” He offers the example of the Balkans, where everyone seems to have forgotten about the United States troops who have been there for years, helping keep a peace brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

Under the best result Mr. Biddle said he could imagine, the United States would cajole or force warring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to agree to the standard-cookbook negotiated ending to a civil war. There would be some kind of power-sharing deal among the key combatants, yielding an uneasy cease-fire that would have to be policed for a long time by outside peacekeepers, since no warring side would trust another.

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Except, Mr. Biddle said, “If I had to bet my house mortgage on a scenario, it wouldn’t be on that one.”


The best America can hope for, some experts said, would be for Iraq to turn into today’s version of the Spanish Civil War.

...[T]he Spanish Civil War lasted three years, from 1936 to 1939, when the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, defeated the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic. The death toll was huge — estimates put it between 500,000 and one million. People in just about every European country were passionate about the fight: the Loyalists got weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

But, in the end, the Spanish Civil War stayed Spanish. The Europeans sent money and arms and even volunteers, but they didn’t let the war engulf the continent....

The biggest worry in Iraq is not that Iraq will descend into a civil war — most experts say that is a done deal — but that an Iraqi civil war will not stay Iraqi. The fear is that a civil war will engulf the entire region, with Saudi Arabia and Jordan defending the Sunnis, Iran backing the Shiites, and Iraqi Kurds declaring their independence, a move sure to draw in Turkey, which has its own restive Kurdish population.


The Spanish Civil War script doesn’t bode well for Iraq itself. The death toll would be enormous, and Iraqi Sunnis, who make up only about 20 percent of the population, would face particular hardship. But such a war wouldn’t become World War III. The United States would eventually pull its troops out, the Iranians would finance the Shiites, and the Saudis would support the Sunnis, but neither neighbor would engage militarily itself.

America’s image abroad would suffer a blow, but not a fatal one, and in the end, the United States would still be the sole world power. “That’s the best we can expect,” Mr. Rose said. “Disaster in Iraq, problems in the Middle East and a several-year period to recover the losses in American foreign policy.”


The problem with Mr. Bush’s plan, said Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is that it doesn’t provide enough American troops to do much more than stay the course, to use Mr. Bush’s now-abandoned lexicon. The way Mr. Nasr sees it, 20,000 additional troops is too few to change the dynamic on the ground, but enough to escalate tensions further.

“The best we can hope for is pretty much the same thing we’ve had for the last year,” said Mr. Nasr, author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.” “More of the same for another two years, but keep in mind that it could potentially get much worse.”

That worst-case scenario is pretty scary, Mr. Biddle said. In that picture, the United States would pull its troops out of Iraq, the civil war would accelerate, and the Shiites, financed by Iran, would conquer one Sunni village after another, driving the Sunnis over the borders and into refugee camps in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

There would be a huge refugee crisis in the Sunni Arab countries, where a dispossessed, bitter and highly politicized refugee population would appeal to Saudi and Jordanian rulers to make a last stand for Sunnis in Iraq. But since it would have taken about 5 to 10 years to get to this point, guess who, by then, would have acquired a nuclear bomb?


“In the worst case, you could be looking at a couple of nuclear weapons dropped on major cities — Baghdad, Riyadh, Tehran,” Mr. Biddle said.

That possibility makes the one that Mr. Biddle views as most likely seem almost palatable. Here it is:

“We get out, the civil war escalates,” Mr. Biddle said. “It’s funded by all sides but they don’t send their own troops across the border. The war just bumps along for 5 or 10 years and everybody eventually gets so weary that diplomacy finally gets going, and there’s a cease-fire, power-sharing deal. During that period, Iraqi oil output crashes, there’s huge instability in the region and oil prices rise. And there’s a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.

“That’s not a very happy scenario,” Mr. Biddle acknowledged. “But it beats the heck out of nuclear war in the Mideast.”

Well, as long as it's just Middle Eastern cities getting nuked, that's no skin off our nose, right? I mean, it's not like we'd be culpable in any way. We simply tried to force the sweet nectar of democracy down Iraq's throat - how could we anticipate that they would be so barbaric and ungrateful as to spit it back in our faces? (Actually, I kinda wish they really had - we could use some more of that democracy nectar over here.)

The problem with the Bushies and the neocons is that they never, ever look at the worst-case scenarios - except, of course, when they're evaluating what will happen if they don't blow shit up. They don't even look at the non-best-case scenarios. They look at the candy-and-flowers scenario, and become so enamored of its inevitability that they don't even bother to make plans to ensure its occurrence.

Even now, I think the administration is still swinging for the fences, hoping to hit a best-case home run, without admitting that they have barely enough power to clear the infield for a bloop single. Bush thinks he's Mickey Mantle, when he's actually Eddie Gaedel.

Well, Great.

We've broken Brazil.

Completely Themeless NYC Photoblogging

Couldn't come up with a theme here. Umm, the first two are B&W and horizontal, and the second two are color and vertical...

Detail of some sort of Con-Ed gas truck...

Reflection in a drugstore window.

Padlock. Chain. Red.

Space alien hitching a ride on a Con-Ed gas truck.

Eli's Obsession With The Google

On the first page of search results for bell curve in PMS.

I can't even begin to imagine what this could refer to...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Vehicular NYC Photoblogging

Various vehicles from NYC...

The proud winner of MTV's annual "Pimp My Tug" competition.

In case you've ever wondered what the spirit of New York looked like...

Helicopter MADNESS!!!
(Click on the pic to see Bonus Helicopter)

Well, there is a truck in the background...


I'm not entirely sure why this is in the Op-Ed section, but it certainly is fascinating:
...[N]either chimpanzees nor any of the other 220 species of nonhuman primates have whites of the eyes, at least not that can be easily seen. This means that if their eyes are looking in a direction other than the one in which their heads are pointing, we can easily be fooled about what they are looking at.

Why should humans be so different? And yet we are. We can’t fool anyone. The whites of our eyes are several times larger than those of other primates, which makes it much easier to see where the eyes, as opposed to the head, are pointed. Trying to explain this trait leads us into one of the deepest and most controversial topics in the modern study of human evolution: the evolution of cooperation.

The idea is simple. Knowing what another person is looking at provides valuable information about what she is thinking and feeling, and what she might do next. Even young children know that when a person is looking at one toy and not another, she most likely prefers that toy and may reach for it. Professional poker players are often so worried about others reading their minds by reading their eyes that they wear sunglasses.


Evolutionary theory tells us that, in general, the only individuals who are around today are those whose ancestors did things that were beneficial to their own survival and reproduction. If I have eyes whose direction is especially easy to follow, it must be of some advantage to me.

If I am, in effect, advertising the direction of my eyes, I must be in a social environment full of others who are not often inclined to take advantage of this to my detriment — by, say, beating me to the food or escaping aggression before me. Indeed, I must be in a cooperative social environment in which others following the direction of my eyes somehow benefits me.

Of course, it’s possible that having large whites of the eyes serves some other purpose, like enabling me to advertise my good health to potential mates. But such an advantage would apply to other primates as well. Cooperation, on the other hand, singles out humans, as humans coordinate activities to do such things as construct buildings, create social institutions and even, paradoxically, organize armies for war.


It has been repeatedly demonstrated that all great apes, including humans, follow the gaze direction of others. But in previous studies the head and eyes were always pointed in the same direction. Only when we made the head and eyes point in different directions did we find a species difference: humans are sensitive to the direction of the eyes specifically in a way that our nearest primate relatives are not. This is the first demonstration of an actual behavioral function for humans’ uniquely visible eyes.

Why might it have been advantageous for some early humans to advertise their eye direction in a way that enabled others to determine what they were looking at more easily? One possible answer, what we have called the cooperative eye hypothesis, is that especially visible eyes made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what she was planning, benefited both participants.


We are still a long way from figuring out why humans evolved to do so many complicated things together — from building houses to creating universities to fighting wars. But the simple fact that we have evolved highly visible eyes, to which infants attune even before language, supplies at least one small piece of the puzzle of how.

This is really intriguing stuff - I had never really given much thought to why we have eyes with whites and most other animals don't. I guess I had just automatically assumed that it was part of the physical evolution of the eye itself, with no social implications. (This could still be the case, but I don't know of anything unique about human vision that is not shared by un-eye-whited creatures, or what the presence or absence of eye-whites would have to do with visual acuity.)

The biggest problem that I have with this hypothesis is that humans are not the only social primate; far from it. So why haven't chimps or bonobos evolved readable eyes? Do they lack the intelligence to make use of such visual cues? Are their social groups not cooperative enough for that kind of transparency to be beneficial to the individual? Could they really be more backstabby than humans? Maybe humans have become less trustworthy since we developed eye whites...

The President Issues A Challenge

Take that, naysayers!
President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.

"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.

I hereby issue the same challenge to all those who oppose my plan to make sand the world's primary energy source.

This Surprises... No-One.

Be sure to check out Phila's take on KSFO's attempt at on-air damage control after their attempt to pull spocko's plug backfired disastrously. To sum up: Their on-air crazies did not acquit themselves very well.

I hope KSFO's advertisers were listening, wondering whether they would hear any reason to continue associating their brands with right-wing hate.

(h/t to Supremely Ironic David)

Puking Up The Kool-Aid

Glenn Greenwald discusses an amazing audio commentary by archconservative Rod Dreher, in which he repudiates, if not conservatism itself, President Bush and the Republican party (emphasis Greenwald's):
Dreher, 40, recounts that his "first real political memory" was the 1979 failed rescue effort of the U.S. hostages in Iran. He says he "hated" Jimmy Carter for "shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence." When Reagan was elected, he believed "America was saved." Reagan was "strong and confident." Democrats were "weak and depressed."
In fairness, Dreher would have been about 12 at the time. But one of the hallmarks of true believer conservatives is that they never outgrow it.
In particular, Dreher recounts how much, during the 1980s, he "disliked hippies - the blame America first liberals who were so hung up on Vietnam, who surrendered to Communists back then just like they want to do now." In short, Republicans were "winners." Democrats were "defeatists."

On 9/11, Dreher's first thought was : "Thank God we have a Republican in the White House." The rest of his essay:

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool's errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool.

In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government's conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President.


As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative - that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word - that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot - that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn't the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?

Will my children, too small now to understand Iraq, take me seriously when I tell them one day what powerful men, whom their father once believed in, did to this country? Heavy thoughts for someone who is still a conservative despite it all. It was a long drive home.

Dreher's essay is extreme and intense but also increasingly commonplace and illustrative. The disaster of unparalleled magnitude that President Bush and his integrity-free and bloodthirsty administration and followers wrought on this country will have a profound impact not only on American strength and credibility for a long, long time to come, but also on the views of Americans towards their political leaders and, almost certainly, towards the Republican Party.

One of the very few potential benefits of the Iraq tragedy is that it may raise the level of doubt and cynicism with which Americans evaluate the claims of the Government when it tries -- as Dreher put it -- "to send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot."
I hope Greenwald is right about where this is heading. I expect there were a whole bunch of bitterly disillusioned conservatives back in 1974 too, but they sure got over it pretty quick. I suspect that if the next Democratic president can't undo the deep structural, psychic, and moral damage 8 years of Bush misrule have inflicted on our country, and if the Republicans field a candidate peddling a bogus message of sunny optimism, then the conservative true believers' faith will be miraculously and instantly restored.

After all, Bush was an aberration; he wasn't a real conservative, and they were all taken in by his wily, resolute ways. But the next time will be totally different, and they'll follow Reagan II to the end of the Earth... until they get close enough to the edge to see the abyss below, at which point the cycle will repeat. Conservatives fall in love with Republicans, Republicans nearly destroy America, Conservatives fall out of love with Republicans, Democrats fail to usher in Golden Age Of America, Conservatives fall in love with Republicans again.

Thinking on it a bit more, I think a big part of the problem (or maybe just a symptom?) is standards. Conservatives simply hold Republicans and other conservatives to a much, much lower standard than they hold Democrats and progressives to. Look at how badly Bush had to fuck everything up before Dreher finally lost faith in him, as compared to him losing faith in Jimmy Carter over one failed rescue operation. Compare the relative standards for impeachment, or for congressional investigations, or even the very definitions of words like "popular" or "mandate." I might try to blame the media for this, but the sad truth is that most of the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the conservative movement.

But the bottom line is that the standard of success for a Republican president is somewhere in the vicinity of "Don't get us into a depression or World War III", whereas the standard of success for a Democratic president is "Fix everything the Republicans broke and make the world perfect." So based on that, they can easily say, "Hey, I tried to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, but they had their chance and they failed miserably, so I'm going to start screaming my head off for impeachment like any reasonable, responsible citizen should."

(h/t Atrios)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Memorial Quote & Catblogging

From The Last Starfighter:
Death is a primitive concept. I prefer to think of them as battling evil, in another dimension.

Dedicated to fourlegsgood and his dear departed plushy best friend, Lion Kitty Maxx, who joins the great celestial pantheon of Best Kitties Ever, along with...

...La Belle Eek...

...and The Shadowy And Mysterious Codename F.

I miss them all very much.

Buyer's Remorse

How's that decision to back Lieberman workin' out for ya?
Making his umpteenth pitch to Congress to provide more security money for New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated the obvious when he said that money to defend against terrorism should be divvied up based on an assessment of risks, not “spread across the country like peanut butter.” After all, his testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee echoed one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The mayor estimated that more than $3 billion had been distributed in this lunatic way to date.

Unfortunately, the committee’s incoming chairman, Senator Joseph Lieberman, is partial to peanut butter. Mr. Lieberman, who won re-election last November as an independent with help from Mr. Bloomberg, continues to believe that every state, regardless of the risks or threats it faces, should be getting antiterrorism money. In negotiations with the House, Mr. Lieberman is seeking a “compromise” formula that preserves guaranteed minimums for relatively low-risk places like his home state of Connecticut. The minimums he wants well exceed the financing favored by the House, and cannot be justified on the basis of national security.


Mr. Lieberman fought the odds, held his seat and got this chairmanship. Now it’s up to him to use the power responsibly.
Right. "Lieberman" and "responsibly" in the same sentence. On the other hand, maybe Joe just wants to make sure the Groton sub base has adequate protection. He just loves that sub base.

I hope you're pleased with your moderate, bipartisan, serious buddy, Mr. Bloomberg.

Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

This week's quote is from The Rage: Carrie 2:
Sometimes my thoughts assume the form of a giant insect.

And, of course, there'll be other people's cats...

The shadowy and mysterious Codename B, of course.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Netting MADNESS!!!

As I believe I may have warned before, I have... netting photos. There's this sports complex on the NYC waterfront, and one of the piers has been enclosed and turned into a driving range.

I will dispense with captions, since, well, they're all netting.

Worst. Verification. Word. Ever.



I Wonder...

Does Dubya think to himself, "I still got 55,000 to go before this casualties thing becomes a problem"?

Gulf War II:
Less deadly than Vietnam!

American Torture & Detainment Policy: Less brutal than Saddam's!

President Bush: Possibly a teensy bit more competent than Warren Harding or James Buchanan!

Rice/Cheney/Rumsfeld: More competent than... Okay, I'm stumped.

Eli's Obsession With The Google

#1 search result for i like to hit people.

I don't, really. But I can relate to the sentiment...

UPDATE: Also #1 search result for beard plugs.

Awesome. I especially like to hit people with my beard plugs.


"Okay, I know you've heard this before, but it's totally going to work this time..."
President Bush embraced a major tactical shift on Wednesday evening in the war in Iraq when he declared that the only way to quell sectarian violence there was to send more than 20,000 additional American troops into combat.

Yet in defying mounting pressure to begin troop withdrawals, the president reiterated his argument that the consequences of failure in Iraq were so high that the United States could not afford to lose.
Then why has he been so hell-bent on doing exactly the wrong thing, all the time? If this is The Most Important War Ever, why no draft? Why a call to malls instead of a call to arms? Why no strategy beyond throwing troops at Iraq and telling the Iraqis to play nice? Why no consultations with non-insane Middle East or Iraq experts before, during, or after the invasion? Why, if I didn't know better, I might think that this is just empty rhetoric to make withdrawal sound like a bad thing.
In a speech to the nation, Mr. Bush conceded for the first time that there had not been enough American or Iraqi troops in Baghdad to halt the capital’s descent over the past year into chaos. [And they only just noticed this now?] In documents released just before the speech, the White House acknowledged that his previous strategy was based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the power of the shaky Iraqi government. [The success of his new plan depends on this exact same government, mind you.]

Mr. Bush gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived, describing his new strategy as an effort to “change America’s course in Iraq,” and he said that “we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties” in the course of more intensive round-the-clock patrols in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods. [Oh good, more casualties - I'm loving the new plan already.]

But Mr. Bush rekindled his argument that a withdrawal would doom to failure the American experiment in Iraq, touch off chaos throughout the Middle East, provide a launching pad for attacks in the United States, and embolden Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
This... is a joke, right? The American "experiment" (damn, what a callous-yet-appropriate word choice that is) was doomed to failure from the beginning, it's destabilizing the Middle East, and in case you hadn't noticed, terrorists already have a "launching pad" - it's called Afghanistan, which we have utterly failed to secure, and are now pulling troops out of to feed the surge. As for emboldening Iran, I'm sure they're real intimidated by our brilliant move of committing almost our entire active-duty military to not-quite-prop-up two failed states.
He also offered his most direct acknowledgment of error in an American-led war that has lasted nearly four years and claimed more than 3,000 American lives. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he said.
That's it? That's the great big I'm-a-grownup mea culpa? That is not, "I've made some terrible mistakes and I am deeply sorry for all those Americans and Iraqis who suffered and died for my arrogance and blindness." More like, "Yeah, some of the people working for me might have screwed up a few times, so I guess that kinda sorta makes it my fault, maybe."
For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said in repeating an argument that he has used for nearly four years — that a retreat from the country before a decisive victory is won would provide terrorists a place in which to conduct new attacks on the United States and American targets.
Argh. This just hurts my brain. Is there anyone outside the right-wing true believers who actually believes this? Even if there were any truth to it, Bush's invasion is what created the possibility. It's still a silly idea, especially when you consider that Iraq is going to be a Shi'ite theocracy, and the terrorist organization most likely to strike the U.S. is Sunni. It makes more sense for al-Qaeda to base itself in Afghanistan, which is majority Sunni, where we're barely paying attention, and where the government is all but nonexistent outside Kabul.
As part of a campaign to market the new strategy, Mr. Bush’s aides insisted that the plan was largely created by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. [BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!]

Yet Mr. Bush sounded less than certain of his support for the prime minister, who many in the White House and the military fear may be intending to extend Shiite power over the Sunnis, or could prove incapable of making good on his promises. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush declared.

He put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. “I said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out,” the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.”
I just love this paragraph - it simultaneously reveals the phoniness of Iraqi sovereignty, as well as the depth of the strategic and policy analysis that went into this latest Plan For Glorious Victory.
Until the summer, Mr. Bush had used the phrase “stay the course” to describe his approach in Iraq, and his decision to describe his new strategy as an effort to “change America’s course” appeared intended to distance himself from that old approach. An earlier plan unveiled in November 2005 had been titled “Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” but Mr. Bush used the word “victory” sparingly on Wednesday night, and then only to diminish expectations.

“The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success,” he said. “I believe that it will,” saying that if it is successful it would result in a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.”
So it won't actually lead to success? It'll what, slow down the pace of failure? Hell, I wouldn't even bet on that.
In some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran, Mr. Bush accused the Iranian government of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” and vowed to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.”

He left deliberately vague the question of whether those operations would be limited to Iraq or conducted elsewhere, and said he had ordered the previously reported deployment of a new aircraft carrier strike group to the region, where it is in easy reach of Iranian territory.
Well, it's good to see that Bush has learned his lesson about starting wars you can't win...
His aides hinted that the administration had already come up with a “Plan B” in case the latest strategy failed, with one saying “there are other ways to achieve our objective.” But he would not describe that strategy, or say if it involved withdrawal, containment or the breakup of the country into sectarian entities.
Wait - I thought "Plan A" (hahahaha) was guaranteed to work "because it has to"? My guess on "Plan B": Nuclear carpet-bombing = Reset button.

Yeah, I have a real warm fuzzy feeling about Stay The Course Plus: Now With More Casualties! This is going to work out great... for Supreme Ayatollah al-Sadr.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NYC Photoblogging, Signage Edition

By a strange coincidence, the four photos I picked today all have some form of signage in them. Maybe it's carryover from my last photo yesterday.

Well, that certainly clears things up.

In some binary pairs, the more massive body's gravitational field will actually suck matter away from the less massive body.

Apparently this is the primal ball-thingy-on-a-barrel.

Please excuse my ignorance, but WTF is a "Speed Table"?

UPDATE: The Google-using shadowy and mysterious Codename V. has informed me that a speed table is a variety of speed bump. Huzzah.