27 February 2008

Democracy in the age of electronics

Diebold is set to play an increasing role in elections of the future.

But, as the following newscast shows, the future is here now.


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Freedom of the Internet is not free

And that can be read several ways. I once told young Clovis, my teenage computer guru, that there were lots of very smart people being paid big bucks to come up with a way to make providing internet service pay ... and pay ... pay. He seemed unconcerned.

Perhaps he should have been more concerned. Here is how one company, Comcast, is attempting to subvert the process so they can control the Internet and, consequently, charge you more for access.

BTW, notice Comcast's lame excuse for packing the hearing room.

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24 February 2008

Reality challenged Republicans

Can't tell whether Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) is a well meaning fool, or a truly mendacious slime ball with his claim that Obama won't say the Pledge of Allegiance. Any help would be appreciated.

This reminds me too much of this incident here in the Twin Hamlets, ably rebutted by Carmen here.

btw, the editor of the newspaper in question never ran Carmen's correction, and after nearly four years of our not paying our subscription, he still sends us the paper.

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Mickey is free at last!

Our little friend Mickey, late of Vietnam, is now home perched on the Appalachian ridge at Deep Gap, overlooking most of North Carolina, with his big sister Máeráed. He is a newly minted American, no thanks to the US State Department. Pretty much the whole sorry story is in the local paper here.

You will notice that while saner heads in Washington approved the granting of a visa to young Mickey, the good folks at the American Embassy in Hanoi simply refused to accept being overruled.

The Deep Gap couple had already successfully rebutted a State Department challenge to their visa request and had to wait for this successful conclusion to a second challenge from the State Department. Although the State Department, through the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, recommended revocation of the petition for the visa, U.S. Immigration had the final word.

This would seem to indicate that somebody at the Embassy had a personal stake in denying exit visas for twenty-six American families, thus screwing up their lives and costing them tens of thousands of dollars. For what? To prove some folks in the US government don't like doing business with the Vietnamese? Some other reason?

It was not a good faith argument in any case. Consider this:

The U.S. State Department is concerned about baby trafficking and initially demanded further proof that Mickey had been abandoned to ensure that he fit the legal definition of an orphan under U.S. law. The guard at the orphanage did not record Mickey as an abandoned child, but “[he] pointed out to both the U.S. investigators and to the Vietnamese law firm we hired that he is not required to record abandonments,” said Mary.

This is proof of how corrupted by bias the State Dept at Hanoi was in this case. When pressured, they produced the Vietnamese transcript of the interview with the orphanage guard and a translation into English.

Funny thing. The English transcript provided by the embassy did NOT include the clear statement in Vietnamese that he was NOT required to record abandonments. Since the embassy based its objection to Mickey solely on that one point, failing to translate the key sentence smacks of "cover our ass as usual."

If Máeráed's family had not had the resources to hire an investigator for themselves, and to have the transcript translated themselves, they never would have known this.

And there are 25 other families dealing with the same nightmare.

You're government at work. These clowns have to go.


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Fountain pen snark

You would think that the world of fountain pen collectors would be a genteel world of tweedy types sipping cognac, comparing their latest acquisition with exquisite politeness.

Maybe not - check out these reviews from the 'Last Word' feature in Pen World concerning the Eversharp Fifth Avenue pen. These guys are a bit snarky about the poor Eversharp.

"Aptly named after a street, because it is so pedestrian. " --- Craig Robertson

"A poor and hurried copy of the Parker 51 with little or nothing to recommend it in comparison."
---- Frank Dubiel

"At least no collector specializing in these pens need buy theft insurance." --- "Bubba" Welton

"Sure it's a 51 rip-off. Sure it's an unworthy successor to the Doric. At least the cap posts!"
--- Rob Astyk

"The $64 question is 'What the heck were they thinking?'" --- Pierre Lescaux

"The smaller Stowaway version is by far the better as there is less of it to offend the eye."
--- Claude Gerrard

It's a tough crowd.

But 'Bubba'? For a fountain pen collector?


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Hydrongen cars - here NOW!

Although they are a little small.

But, if they can build a toy hydrogen fuel cell car now, what will they be able to do in ten years?

Probably nothing if it is left up to American car companies. But ... I could be wrong.


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23 February 2008

Cross species love

On Mediev-L, the list serv for professional medievalists, I found a notice of the following video, with a brief set-up.

"This woman found this lion hurt and about to die. She
> took him home and took care of him. When the lion was
> better she called the local zoo. This was the reaction
> she got when the lion saw her."
> http://www.telestereo.com/Archivos/video.html

So how friendly are YOUR kitties?

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Classic Sci-Fi meets Classic Rock

Depending on what the definition of "classic" is. The folks over at National Review, finally doing something useful for humanity, found this.


But not logical, as Spock might say.

Mother used to say that I had a "Spock-like mind" - no idea what she meant.


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An Astrophysicist on fountain pens

That would be Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, our favorite.
I still write most of my speeches with a [fountain] pen ... There's a certain peace and lucidity that comes with a pen - grace is probably the best word.

Remember ... the man's a scientist.


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How to make money in Medical Insurance

First thing you do is write a lot of policies and collect a lot of money. Then if any of the policy holders get sick enough to require large payments, encourage your agents to find flaws in the original policy and dump them. Any little flaw.

This is a time honored business practice among the dishonest: sell a product or service and then don't deliver it.

After all, if you are caught, all you have to do is provide the service that has already been paid for. There was no extra cost, no punishment, and in a certain number of cases, the customer was dead anyway.

Until now.

You have to read the whole article to see just how sleazy Health Net, the insurance company, was in this case. Then think about something else the article implies: this is standard practice.

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19 February 2008

Viva Cuba Libre!

Sorry. Only misplaced solidarity with my brother-in-law, not to mention Joey Sobrino struggling to learn the ancestral tongue while lolling on the beach amid hordes of Scandinavian school teachers, nurses, airline stewardesses, etc., led me to this outburst.

Actually, I thought it was a drink.

And now I see this vision of free Cuba's future, now that el lider maximo himself is retiring.


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Ode to comics

Yet another of the guest writers (aka unpaid subsitutes) on Andrew Sullivan has published an ode to comic books.

As someone whose entire early knowledge of history and virtually everything else came from comic books, especially things like Classics Illustrated, comics based on movies like "The Conqueror," and "El Cid," and, of course, every issue of every war comic I could find, not to mention the original "Thor," I have to agree.

Once I even wanted to be a comic book illustrator, like Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Russ Manning, or Sam Glanzman.

Instead I became a medieval historian. What a come down.

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Common Conservative Sense

Sometimes Conservatives make perfect sense. Sometimes Liberals don't. Like most things in life it's one of those "we'll see" situations.

Today Jim Manzi, one of the guest writers for Andrew Sullivan (who is taking a week long nap apparently), has this to say about Conservatives and Science. It is not the science they should have a problem but the conclusions reached from empiracal data.

Here's the core of the post:

The debate about evolution is a great example of the kind of sucker play that often ensnares conservatives. Frequently, conservatives are confronted with the assertion that scientific finding X implies political or moral conclusion Y with which they vehemently disagree. Obvious examples include (X = the Modern Synthesis of Evolutionary biology, Y = atheism) and (X = increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 will lead to some increase in global temperatures, Y = we must implement a global regulatory and tax system to radically reduce carbon emissions). Those conservatives with access to the biggest megaphones have recently developed the habit of responding to this by challenging the scientific finding X. The same sorry spectacle of cranks, gibberish and the resulting alienation of scientists and those who respect the practical benefits of science (i.e., pretty much the whole population of the modern world) then ensues.

In general, it would be far wiser to challenge the assertion that X implies Y.

In general.

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17 February 2008

Bush Country

It seems to be in trouble, or at least fading, as the Washington Post has it. Alas, Crawford Texas has fallen upon hard times now that their most famous resident is a lame duck. Even the Cindy Sheehan crowd has trouble keeping their office open.

As for the locals, they are very nuanced about George. Here's one:

"All the people like him. You know. Just the person, you know. I think it was better before 9/11. After 9/11, things kind of went to hell," Cuff says.

And another:

"I think this war is turning people off of Bush. They're still Republican. But if he was running again this time, I wouldn't vote for him," Barnes says.

And then there is this guy:

A guy in a pickup truck down the street huffs and snorts when asked about the election. He says all the candidates are related to one another. It's not clear if he means this literally. "They all go to the same schools. They belong to the same clubs." He turns and stomps off without giving his name.

Sounds like an Obama supporter to me.

Well, that's how it is, out there in the American heartland. Bush country.

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Man, that's a lot of Stuff

Here is "The Story of Stuff." It's long, about 20 mins, but I thought it was interesting. If it is too long just start with the consumption section.

Found it on Elliot's page "Gravity and Waggery. "

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16 February 2008

Impeach Jack Now!!

Jack, over on Cantànima, starts an interesting post complaining about Superbowl excess, among other things, and ends up wanting to be impeached as a father. Seems he's tired of serving but there are no term limits.

I'd urge you all to support his bid, but we are not exactly his constituents.



14 February 2008

Curriculum Reform: How NOT to defend it

"John Lavine, the dean at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism (my alma mater), is facing scrutiny over a series of anonymous quotes in an alumni magazine story he authored defending the school's controversial curriculum overhaul." This is the start of a delicious little tidbit over at National Review written by Guy Benson. Benson gives the good dean's response"

He defended his use of anonymous quotes by drawing a distinction between a news story and a "letter" to alumni in a magazine. "I am not about to defend my veracity," he later said.

I added the emphasis on a statement that should be emblazoned on Lavine's forehead.

ps: Only someone who works within a 200 yard radius of my office will understand the true humor of this item. For the rest of you: sorry.

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"More truth than was acceptable"

That's a quote from John Ireland, archbishop of St Paul, btw. It's relevant to the blog Deus ex Malcontent, whose author is a newsman and producer of a CNN show. That is, until CNN found out he was blogging and telling the truth about TV news.

How truthful? Read this, his apology to America for the Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

So they fired him.

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13 February 2008

This post brought to you by the color Red

... which seems to be in some trouble in Saudi Arabia. Wish I were making this up.

thanks to Andrew Sullivan, once again.

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11 February 2008

The Primaries and Immigration

Several Republican candidates made a strict anti-illegal immigration policy the hallmark of their bid for the nomination. They are all gone now. Instead John McCain, who has been bitterly criticized by self-appointed spokesmen for the party for being too moderate on immigration, is now the presumed winner of the nomination.

The Wall Street Journal, which has always supported immigration reform that allows for a clear-cut path to permanent residency and citizenship points out this fact. Read the whole column, but their summation is:

The GOP primaries have been about as clear a market test as one could imagine for the restrictionist position. Mr. Romney adopted it in full-throated fashion, as Fred Thompson did earlier, and as Mike Huckabee does now. If hostility to illegal immigration were as decisive a voting issue as the TV and radio talkers claim, Senator McCain would not be the presumptive Republican nominee. And this is all without taking account of Democrats and Independents, who tend to be even less restrictionist.

The primaries suggest that even GOP voters appreciate that immigration is more complicated than conservative media elites pretend. Mr. McCain has adapted his immigration position over the last year and now talks about securing the border before other reforms go ahead. But he also talks about a guest-worker program to deal with economic realities, as well as the folly of deportation.

This must be right, even wise, since it agrees with Clemens' position. Once again the voters, even in primaries which usually bring out the committed and doctrinaire, seem to have more sense than most of the politicos.

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The Squeezed Middle Class

Here is confirmation of something I think every time I stand out on King Street watching a steady stream of $35-50,000 SUVs, BMWs, Lexuses, etc., pass by, usually splashing mud on me, while I wait to get across the street to the Beanstalk Coffee Shop.

The Middle Class in America is doing just fine. Despite all the talk you hear about it being squeezed and sliding down the economic slope, this is an optical illusion of the emotions brought on by having so many things we just have to have. We don't, actually.

And now I find this confirmed by the great economist Drew Carey (yes, that Drew Carey). Don't believe me? Watch this.

There is even a Biblical quote from Jesus spoken by the hard edged economist (the real one) featured in the clip.

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09 February 2008

Immigration and Americanism

I was browsing through manybooks.net looking for free books I could load into the Kindle reader I am thinking about getting when I came across a description of As a Chinaman Saw Us, a book written in 1904. It offers a satirical view of America in the guise of a fictitious report from the 'Chinaman.' Here is what he supposedly said about Chicago:

About one-half only of the total population speak or understand English. There are 500,000 Germans, 125,000 Poles, 100,000 Swedes, 90,000 Bohemians, 50,000 Yiddish, 25,000 Dutch, 25,000 Italians, 15,000 French, 10,000 Irish, 10,000 Servians, 10,000 Lutherans, 7,000 Russians, and 5,000 Hungarians in Chicago. You will be surprised to learn that numbers do not count. The 500,000 Germans are not the dominating power, nor are the 100,000 Swedes. The 10,000 Irish are said absolutely to control the political situation. You will ask if I believe that this monster foreign element can be reduced to a homogeneous unit. I reply, yes. Fifty years from to-day they will all be Americans, and a majority will, doubtless, show you their family tree, tracing their ancestry back to the Mayflower.

Many of those Germans, btw, would be persecuted and condemned as enemy aliens who had not assimilated properly when we went to war with their presumed Fatherland in 1917. There were whole sections of Chicago where you heard nothing but German, with German newspapers and German language schools. Thank god we got rid of all that.



Some good news on the war front

From David Ignatius in the Washington Post. I am furious with the Bush admin. for getting us into this mess, and more furious with the Repubs for backing him in lock step, calling anyone who pointed out what a fiasco it was turning into all kinds of names - 'unpatriotic' being merely the politest of them. But I have never thought we could simply pack up and leave. Having destroyed Iraqi political and military institutions, we are obligated to try to keep the whole society from blowing up. Nor is it in America's interest to turn on a dime and pull out. We are stuck there, so better for it to go well than not. I have little interest in what the political fallout for this would be in the US. Not everything is about us - or US, as the case may be.

So this is good news:

As America looks to 2009 and beyond, it should consider that Iraq and Afghanistan aren't all-or-nothing propositions. The United States is developing unconventional tools for unconventional wars. With this mix of hard and soft power, perhaps there is a way to stabilize these broken societies without the high human and economic cost -- and political backlash -- of a long-term U.S. military occupation.

I just hope this time it is true.

There is hope!!

For a Democratic victory in the fall, that is. Just read that Larry Kudlow, the economics editor over at National Review, thinks it absolutely certain that McCain will win.

Like Romney would, or Fred Thompson, or Cheney, or whoever they were for before they were for McCain.

Maybe Kudlow should read a bit more of his own mag - like the Mona Charon column in the last post.

The Republican Dilemma

I am hoping for a great implosion of the Republican coalition this year - not really because I think that the Demos will have all that much to offer us, but because I now believe that the Republicans have become toxic. I hope to explain that in more detail over the coming weeks, and what I hope a real drubbing at the polls will do for the Repubs, but for the moment let's just look at the Republican pundits and their reaction to political reality. In this case in the person of John McCain as the likely nominee and a possible victor over Clinton or Obama.

Mona Charon is a conservative pundit who appears occasionally on TV and on National Review's web site. After writing at NRO about the blistering e-mails she got from readers for suggesting that McCain was trying to meet conservatives more than half-way, which they clearly thought was not enough, she writes ...

The problem with John McCain is not just that he strays. George Bush has strayed from conservatism too. So has Fred Thompson, and certainly, Mitt Romney has as well. But Senator McCain has a knack for saying things in just the tones and accents that liberals prefer.

In 2000, he condemned the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance.*” In 2004, when Sen. John Kerry was getting his comeuppance from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, vets whom he had known during the war and who couldn’t remain silent as the Democratic nominee distorted his war record**, John McCain weighed in by calling them “dishonorable and dishonest.***” When the Bush Administration was being vilified as a nest of Torquemadas for using waterboarding on three occasions, McCain came forward to condemn waterboarding as torture****.

Interesting, if true, as someone once said. She then makes what I think is an accurate point about McCain and the conservatives:

his return from the political grave can probably be traced to the moment (October 22) when he joshingly referred to having missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969 because “I was tied up at the time.” In that instant he came to personify (for many) the conservative side of the great 1960s chasm that (Obama’s irenic rhetoric notwithstanding) continues to divide our society. Not only was he not smoking pot and lolling in the mud with his girlfriend, you could almost hear Republicans telling themselves that he was standing up to torture at the hands of America’s enemies.

And that may explain the otherwise inexplicable animus out there - some are refighting the 60s era. Now mind you, very few of those who are so het up about 'liberals at Woodstock' served in uniform, though they are willing to trash the reputation of those who did if it suits them (e.g. John Kerry, Al Gore, and even ... John McCain). It's no deeper than a lifestyle thing. Perhaps as Henry Kissinger said about academic battles, such struggles are so vicious because they are about so little.

But what does M. Charon think of McCain herself?

There is a strutting self-righteousness about McCain that goes hand-in-hand with a nitroglycerin temper. He flatters himself that his colleagues in the Senate dislike him because he stands up for principle, while they sell their souls for pork. Not exactly. He is disliked because on many, many occasions he has been disrespectful, belligerent, and vulgar to those who differ with him.

So there you have it. God, I hope thousands and thousands of conservatives think like she does. Otherwise, the Demos may be in more trouble than they may think at the moment.

* they are
** he didn't
*** they were
**** it is


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07 February 2008

Hope Springs Eternal at NRO

You can't claim that the folks over at NRO's 'The Corner' aren't optimistic. They are gleefully touting up all the headlines that spell trouble for the Democrats. And you can't say they don't have a point, especially with that stuff about the possibility of a brokered convention. But they are also excited about the stories of Hillary's campaign being in financial trouble and her top staff going without pay. Which, if true, means that the stories about the brokered convention are pointless.

Still, one or the other would be fine for NRO. And who knows, the Democrats could be in serious trouble.

For all I know.

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06 February 2008

Wishful Thinking in politics

Or is it delusional? Here is a bit of political analysis from one of the writers on National Review Online. I am struck more and more at how out of touch, not to say totally delusional, some of the political commentary has gotten over there. There web editor was hoping Dick Cheney would run because he was the best candidate to win in the fall, others were waiting for Fred Thompson, a bit like waiting for Godot, and now they are all getting ready to commit seppuku at the prospect of McCain winning the nomination.

The author, Michael Graham, asks the question 'how to defeat Obama' and concludes it is not a problem.

He's got a glass jaw, and he will fall into the trap of identity politics.

In fact, he already has. The "could we beat Obama?" conversation is purely academic. It's over. The Clintons have defeated him already, because he is leaving South Carolina as "the black candidate."

He won't win another state.

Well, if you say so, though there is the matter of letting the primaries run their course. Just ask the Zogby folks.

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